Little Patuxent Review just released its Winter Issue (available for purchase at this link). Each week we’ll highlight some of the content from this issue. For this week, we’re looking at Hannah Bonner’s essay, “Fixed in a Moment of Fierce Attention: 13 Ways of Looking at Claire Underwood.”
Bonner is a Film Studies Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa. We’re very grateful that she came from Iowa City to Columbia, Maryland for our launch this past weekend. She’s one of so many readers who made this issue and launch such a success.
Bonner’s poetry has been published in So to Speak, The Freeman, Asheville Poetry Review, and North Carolina Literary Review, among others. In addition to LPR, her essays have been published in Bustle, VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, Misadventures magazine, and Weird Sister.
Q: At one point you cite Wallace Steven’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Your essay is very different in form from the poem, but did Stevens guide your writing in any way? What were your other influences/inspirations?
At the time I was writing “Fixed in a Moment of Fierce Attention: 13 Ways of Looking at Claire Underwood” I was reading a lot of non-fiction, so Wallace Steven’s poem was not in the fore front of my mind (though I did re-read it during the writing process). Instead, I was reading Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, Tan Lin’s 7 Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. Each of these texts are very esoteric, but also very sensual, lyrical, and deeply preoccupied with perspective, revision, and fragmentation.
I was at the Vermont Studio Center so I had all this uninterrupted time to soak in their episodic prose, but also in their obsessions, whether with a lover or a color. Claire Underwood had been an obsession of mine for years. I was trying to hone in on why I’m drawn to her and how ephemeral and ultimately unsatisfying it can be when we’re obsessed with someone or something that we can only access in a surface and finite way.
Q: What’s the relationship between your poetry and your essays?
The night before I moved to graduate school my parents gave me three presents: Carol J. Clover’s canonical text Men, Women, and Chainsaws, Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, and Beyonce’s titular album. I felt emboldened by those texts, though I did feel like I was starting to veer away from my connection to poetry.
A couple years later my parents visited Iowa and Jessica Hopper, serendipitously, was giving a public talk. She gave some advice to the audience that I really took to heart: write what you want to read. Since hearing that I’ve no longer worried about adhering to genre or form or whatever preconceived stipulations one might bring to bear on reading a text—I write what I want to read. I love poetry and I love expanding and challenging the boundaries of the essay, much in the spirit of John D’Agata’s anthologies. So there’s a lot of cross-pollination right now for me when it comes to language, lyricism, and argument.
Q: How has film influenced your creative writing?
Invariably when I watch experimental film I write a poem. Betzy Bromberg, Mary Helena Clark, Ana Mendieta, Emily Drummer, and Carl Elsaesser are filmmakers that remind me of the best kind of poems—where you get to the last word that both surprises you and fits seamlessly within the sentence. What James Baldwin might call perception at the pitch of passion.
Q: Why did you decide to come to Maryland for the LPR launch?
I’m lucky to be in a very supportive film community in graduate school, but I do miss my roots in creative writing. Plus, I think editor Steven Leyva is not only a gracious editor, but an incredibly talented poet so I was excited to hear all the voices he brought together!
Q: What readings did you like?
I really loved the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, especially Anya Creightney’s “Ars Poetica with Fever” and Tafisha A. Edwards’s beautiful reworking of that poem (though it stands completely on its own: striking, lovely) “Atomic Snowstorm.” I loved their willingness to talk about sex, the body, self-love, self-preservation, self-care, etc. in a way that was utterly candid, at times humorous, and unabashedly embracing of one’s sexuality and sexual desires, especially celeste doaks’s “Harley Dream” and Katy Richey’s poem on the vagina. The best poetry I read last year was women exploring our current sexual and political landscape. Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence floored me, as did Marie Howe’s Magdalene: Poems and Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé.
Q: What’s next for your writing?
I’m currently finishing a chapter for an anthology on horror films, slut shaming, and surveillance. But I have a project I want to work on in a similar structure to “Fixed in a Moment of Fierce Attention” that would explore longing, modern forms of communication, and the poetry of Robert Creeley. I’ve been accruing all these notes on fragmentation, absence, sex, and desire. I have no idea where it’ll lead me, but I want to work through this new current obsession and see where it goes.