The Hive Poetry Collective has been buzzing with tasty events to showcase new work. The upcoming Hive Collective Reading features Jennifer Tseng, an award-winning short fiction and poetry writer—and creative writing and literature professor at UCSC—whose work offers daring leaps of the imagination and unforgettable characters. Tseng will join fellow poet and performance artist Daniel Summerhill, an assistant Poetry and Social Action professor at CSU Monterey Bay.
As a former UCSC lecturer with a journalism day job, I know the challenges of balancing the inner life of creativity with the necessities of a day job. Non-artists would be interested in learning how you handle that balance in your own lives. Is it easy? Irritating? Impossible?
JENNIFER TSENG: Learning the art of balancing teaching and writing is a new, ongoing struggle for me. I’m experimenting with different approaches. Some of my colleagues only write in the summertime, some are hellbent on writing every day regardless, and I am drifting somewhere in between. What’s been helpful is to teach work that’s relevant to my own, to find ways for the two actions to support each other.
DANIEL SUMMERHILL: Difficult to find time to write during the academic year unless I am heavily inspired or have a pocket of extended time. I usually do the bulk of my writing during the summer. This upcoming summer, I will be in New York as a Baldwin for the Arts fellow, where I have been awarded space to both rest and write. As a husband and a father of two, much of my practice is about finding a rhythm—many very early mornings and manually carving out space.
Has winning honors and awards helped you to stay confident about upcoming work?
JT: It’s difficult to say. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to know that one has readers. On the other hand, if one becomes dependent on external forces for validation, one can easily become discouraged in their absence.
DS: Concerning a very similar question, James Baldwin once responded that once a poet brings a persona to the page, they’re finished, meaning the awards shouldn’t change the reason you return to the page. I suppose it is cool to be recognized for my contributions to the literary world; however, many, if not all, of those awards are arbitrary or based on some genre or cultural understanding of what a good piece of writing is, and that changes daily.
What was the first impulse that produced a mature poem?
JT: The experience of solitude, the joys and freedom of the imagination.
DS: Some of my early work that was inspired by childhood trauma or adolescent experiences stretched my adult mind a bit because it required me to detach myself from an event or experience in order to objectively explore those inspirations. This type of exercise requires a tremendous amount of patience, attention and maturity.
Specific passions that led to your new books?
JT: I don’t look for themes. I have obsessions, things I’m vexed to write about whether I want to or not, and often I’m not even aware of them while writing.
DS: The themes found me or were the things that became and still are my obsessions. My first collection, Divine, Divine, Divine, was written over many years and eventually became my graduate school thesis and revolves around childhood trauma, adolescence and the exploration of language and linguistic justice with a spiritual throughline.
Do you ever find yourself questioning whether writing poetry is a serious enterprise?
JT: Yes and no. Always and never.
DS: I don’t suppose I had a choice. I didn’t become a writer, I discovered I was one, and as James Baldwin says, once that happens, you are either going to be that writer or nothing at all.
What did you want to do/be when you grew up?
JT: Lawyer, astronaut, sex therapist.
DT: Very early on, I wanted to be an architectural engineer until I did an eighth-grade research project on that career and realized how much math I would need. That was a turn-off.
The Hive Live! Featuring Jennifer Tseng and Daniel Summerhill happens Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 7pm. Free (with registration). Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. bookshopsantacruz.com. Hive Collective interviews and poetry air on KSQD 90.7 FM Sundays at 8pm.