“I knew we were moving to the right place when I read a quote by M.F.K. Fisher on the napkin dispenser at Carmen & David’s Creamery. The community had to be one that valued the literary arts if the ice cream parlor napkin dispenser was dispensing wisdom from writers, too. Butter fat and words – two of my favorite things.“
It’s difficult to describe Jennifer Hill in less than ten words. Believe me, I’ve been trying for two weeks now, ever since I had the opportunity to interview Hill via email. She is an arts educator, conducting workshops and residencies with students, teachers and community organizations to generate poetry, plays, and other writing. She is a writer with six books of poetry and two books of prose under her belt (including Fragmentirety; Regular Expressions: The Facebook Status Update Poems; No L; Book of Days; and Questioning Walls Open). She is an editor and designer at Paper Kite Press, an independent poetry press started by Hill and her husband (and fellow poet) Dan Waber in 2003. That’s 84 words already and I haven’t even gotten to the hooping yet.
Hill has lived in Lancaster for about a year now and is already proving to be a boon to our local literary community. “I just completed a community memoir project called “A Commonplace Book,” where I invited people on Facebook to participate in a daily writing project. Every day for a month I posted a writing prompt that was geared toward memoir, and people responded in the comments. Some really incredible personal stories were shared. At the end of the month I chose the entries I felt worked in terms of an overall collection, edited, arranged and completed the layout for a finished book. The book was published last month. It was a lot of work, but it was very worthwhile. Meaningful connections were made through the sharing of stories, people who started out feeling like they weren’t writers discovered that they had some narrative skill, and hey, Facebook had actual purpose for a month!” she said in her interview.
And that’s not all. Hill is in the process of planning for two upcoming poetry residencies—the first with seniors and juniors at Central York High School, and the second at an elementary school in Adams County. On September 11th she’ll be the featured reader at Dogstar Books, and later that week she’s traveling to Perry County to teach “How the Sky Got Its Writing: A Playshop in Magic Realism.” Her play “The Inside of a Watermelon Seed” was produced this past June by the Gaslight Theatre Company out of Wilkes-Barre, PA.
How long have you been writing? And what do you write?
“As soon as I realized I could play with words, I started. So, I’ve been writing since I was five. My first poem was written in Kindergarten, and it was about a swing. I illustrated it with fingerpaint, because that’s what was handy. (See what I did there?) I write poetry, (both visual and lexical), plays, short fiction, and essays. Most of my thoughts are poem-shaped.”
Where are you from? What was the literary community like in your hometown?
“I grew up in the woods. Our closest neighbor was a mile away. The literary community there was composed of deer, blackberry bushes, violets, fallen trees for turning into teeter totters, and fossils. My most recent hometown was Northeastern PA, where my husband Dan Waber and I ran a gallery, performing arts space, and bookstore. There was, and continues to be, a very vibrant literary community in NEPA. There are a number of regular reading series, writing workshops, and plenty of encouragement for young writers. For the Paper Kite Third Friday readings we always brought in a writer from out of the area to feature. We had the benefit of having an extra apartment directly above the space, so we brought writers and performers in from all over and they had a place to stay. I really enjoyed getting to meet and learn from so many different people.”
Tell us something interesting about Lancaster.
“Lancaster also spells: Lace Rants, Clean Star, Clean Tsar, Clean Arts, Lance Star, Scarlet An, Clans Tear, Scan Alert, Acts Learn, Cleans Rat. I think my favorite there is Clean Arts, but Lace Rants is pretty fun too.”
Hill was also generous enough to allow us to re-post her poem “Knurl” which was originally published in Issue Seven of Unshod Quills:
By Jennifer Hill
The river ascends like an S, a signature
scrolled through bedrock, detour from a minuend
of ocean. Rain claps hands to end the overture.
What more can we endure of this knurled dividend,
this biblical earth? Silence is so accurate,
a featherweight among stones, the lost evidence
that we were here, alive, intense as fenestrate.
Our rivers ascend like eights, infinite accidents.