Hollie Hardy on Being Brave, Diving In, and Making Connections

An interview with Hollie Hardy, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Hollie Hardy can teach you how to survive anything. Her first collection of poetry, How to Take a Bullet, And Other Survival Poems has titles ruthlessly appropriated from The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. She is an adjunct English instructor at Berkeley City College and lecturer at San Francisco State University, where she also received her Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry. An active participant in the local Bay Area literary scene, Hardy co-hosts the popular monthly reading series, Saturday Night Special, An East Bay Open Mic. She is a core producer and venue coordinator for the annualBeast Crawl Literary Festival in Oakland, curator of Litquake’s Flight of Poets, and a former Editor-in-Chief ofFourteen Hills: The SFSU Review. Her work has appeared in various literary journals, including: Eleven ElevensPARKLE & bLinkThe CommonA Sharp Piece of AwesomeParthenon West ReviewTransfer,Milvia Street, and other journals. She lives in Oakland. The release party for How to Take a Bullet is this Saturday at the SF Motorcycle Club.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?

I’m a poet, a writer, an adjunct English professor, an organizer and host of numerous literary events and festivals, an editor, a biker (motorcycles, not bicycles), a rock climber, a food lover… and because none of these pay the bills, I also work for a construction company.

What’s your biggest struggle – work or otherwise?

I have a hard time saying no, so I have a tendency to over-book myself with readings, classes, volunteer jobs, social engagements, etc., and this incessant busyness means that I’m always operating on triage and my own writing often ends up last on my to-do list. Making time to write can feel like a luxury. I’m grateful for Saturday Night Special, the reading series I co-host with Tomas Moniz. Each month we agree on a new theme, and if I write nothing else in a month, I write something new for SNS. It’s like a gift.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

The Bay Area is such a rich literary community, arguably one of the best places in the nation to be a poet. There are so many opportunities to get involved, be inspired, get published, see and be seen; there’s something literary going on every night. I urge aspiring writers to be brave, dive in, make connections, carve a place for themselves. Also, to write and write and write. Revise. Keep writing.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Absolutely. I’ve never measured success in terms of money, but in happiness. I have a good life – a great boyfriend, rent control in a city full of fun stuff to do within walking distance, teaching jobs that bring me joy and deep satisfaction; I eat better then almost anyone I know (thanks to my boyfriend, Whole Foods, and the Oakland restaurant scene); I ride a fast, sexy motorcycle; I’m part of a brilliant community of writers and friends, and my first book has just come out. What more could a girl want?

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

There is nothing more hope-filled and inspirational than a sloth crossing the street with “I Believe I Can Fly” as his theme song:

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

I wish I knew more about my ancestors – Chippewa Indians, Irish potato famine survivors, English moonshiners and fiddle-makers, some French immigrants who changed their names from Junet to June, a miscellany of long-lost Dutch and Scottish kin who landed in Michigan. There’s a vague story of some great great great (great, great, great, great?) uncles, famous in their time for a complete wife/family swap, which I would love to know the details of. Alas, I do not.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

Mary Lou Retton. When she won the gold medal for America (individual all around in gymnastics) in the 1984 Olympics, I wanted to be her. Just like her. But taller. And with longer hair. And a smaller neck. And maybe a childhood. I was a pretty decent gymnast from age three until about seventeen. I used to imagine a Russian gymnastics coach would discover me (perhaps practicing back flips in my back yard) and steal me away from my parents to train night and day for the gold! But then I realized that I liked other things too. Like poetry. And boys. Still, Mary Lou was an inspiration.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

There are five kinds of “wilderness” I subscribe to, none of which last a week:

  1. Semi-annual weekend in Auburn with octogenarian karaoke at Lou LaBonte’s. Think: gin and tonic and a cheap hotel, followed by breakfast and Bloody Marys at Awful Annie’s, hike to the American River (river = wilderness), lounge in an inner tube until sunburnt, rinse, repeat.
  2. Camping at Standish Hickey. Think: tent under the stars, with campfire and cigars, followed by breakfast, coffee, a hike to the Eel River, jump off a rock into the water-hole, eat, rinse, repeat.
  3. Rock climbing east of the Sierras. Think: rocks, ropes, muscles, sweat, sunburn, snacks, and a sunset hike to a secret hot springs.
  4. Skinny dipping in phosphorescent waves on a warm dark night in the remote village of Mazunte, Mexico. Baby turtles burst from their buried nests in the sand, and scurry towards the ocean.
  5. Motorcycle ride down a twisty tree-lined road (trees = wilderness) on a breezy 73-degree northern California day, followed by a beer from the Warehouse Café in Port Costa, consumed on the banks of the Carquinez Strait. Think: Live rockabilly music, a welter of bikers, and a giant taxidermy polar bear (polar bear = wilderness).

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Oh yeah, that happens. It’s best with a stripper pole, of course. It helps to have something to hold onto. The mood is jovial, or feline. My favorite is the surprise strip tease. It’s like a surprise trust fall. Or surprise sex.

What’s wrong with society today?

Greed, laziness, ignorance, intolerance, the same things that are always wrong. We are too quick to blame others for our problems. We’re easily distracted by unimportant things. Too often we sit passively, living our lives by default instead of subverting tired routines or braving the uncomfortable to discover new perspectives.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

I’d like to be around when we discover life on other planets. Wouldn’t that be exciting?

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

We need artists and poets just as we need scientists, inventors, and philosophers, to reveal and reimagine, to teach, inspire, and empower. Art shows us the world in a way we may not have seen on our own, shows us newly what it means to be human.

What are you working on right now?

I’m in love with Oakland, my home for the last twenty-three years. I’m currently working on a new poetry collection tied to place and rooted in Oakland history and its contemporary intersections. Specifically, I’m interested in Oakland’s long-defunct Key System of trolley cars as palimpsest for the modern urban landscape.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

The violent crime. And the surfeit of homeless people. I know; that’s two things.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

There’s so much to do in the Bay Area and I don’t have kids, so I get to go out on the town a lot. I love to eat at swanky restaurants, go wine tasting, salsa dancing, see movies, attend literary readings… yikes! This is starting to sound like a dating profile.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Night-blooming Jasmine, fresh-cut grass, ripe peaches, Jason’s cooking.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

A month in Japan – writing, eating, sightseeing, and frolicking in a flurry of spring cherry blossoms. I’ve wanted this since I was twelve years old, when I was a finalist (top ten out of 10,000) in an essay contest that almost won me just such an all-expenses-paid trip.

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