In my first days in Bloomington, Indiana, where I had just moved to go to school for my MFA, I met Luke Hankins. He spoke deliberately and with a bit of southern drawl, and he taught me that the building where most of our days were to be spent was called Ballantine, which rhymes with Valentine (not with trampoline, as I had mistakenly been pronouncing it). Besides making the world a more grammatically-correct and well-pronounced place, Luke is devoted to the craft of poetry and machine of writing, that is editing and publishing, the needful things to get writing to readers. He is the founding editor of Orison Books, a “literary press which is focused on the life of the spirit from a broad range of perspectives” and which has a prize for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. You can find links to his work and learn more about Luke at his website. Below, Luke was generous enough to share a little bit about his writing and working life. Read on and be inspired.
What do you write?
I primarily write poetry, but also essays and book reviews, and I also translate Stella Vinitchi Radulescu’s French language poetry. In fact, my next book, The Work of Creation (Wipf & Stock, forthcoming Jan. 2016) is a collection of prose pieces in various genres (literary criticism, personal essays, meditations on art and literature, etc.). I also hope to start writing a memoir focused on my religious upbringing and eventual evolution out of traditional religion over the next few years.
How do you write it?
When writing poetry, I tend to write late at night, often on scraps of paper and ideally with a pen with very free-flowing ink and a small aperture (e.g., Uniball Vision, fine). This seems to help me tactilely sense that the words are an extension of my thoughts and the movements of my hand. I return to these scraps during the day and type them on the computer for expansion and editing. I’m part of a wonderful writing group of a few trusted fellow writers, so lately I’ve had the benefit of sharing work in progress with the group, which is a great help in the revision process.
When writing prose, I find I need to take a more disciplined approach, relying less on the vagaries of “inspiration.” I usually give myself an assignment and set aside certain hours during the day to work on it. It’s more like being back in school, though entirely self-guided. For translation work, I give myself similar assignments.
Can you tell us a little bit about your job(s)/role(s) and how you got there?
I have a lot of jobs! I’m a server at the Dining Room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate; a personal assistant for a private businessman; the founder and editor of a non-profit literary press, Orison Books; the Senior Editor at Asheville Poetry Review; and an occasional dogsitter. Not all of these are paying jobs—Orison Books and Asheville Poetry Review are labors of love.
It would be tedious to go into how I got involved in all these various endeavors; suffice it to say I’ve worked in editorial positions at literary magazines for many years, both during school and after (I’ve been at Asheville Poetry Review for 9 years, in fact), and I founded Orison Books, a non-profit literary press focused on the life of the spirit from a broad and inclusive range of perspectives, about a year and a half ago. The paying jobs have come about in the usual way—applying for jobs, working my way into better positions over the years.
How do these jobs challenge/influence/inspire your writing life?
To be honest, I don’t know how I get as much writing done as I manage to! I spend about 50 hours a week—more during the busiest season at the Biltmore Estate—between my jobs that are unrelated to writing or editing, and thus not ultimately important for me, but merely a way to pay the bills. (Life is so expensive! Grrr!!!) My goal is to transition out of the office job, if I can become financially stable enough to do so, and dedicate more of my time to what I’m passionate about—publishing exceptional work by others through the magazines and Orison Books, and of course working on my own writing and translation projects
Can you speak a little bit more to how your non-poetry jobs affect your writing life besides taking time away from your desk? Do you prefer serving tables over the office job? If so, why?
I wouldn’t say that my jobs contribute to my writing in a direct way. Perhaps if I were a fiction writer the guests I meet at the restaurant would suggest or influence characters, but as a poet who relies more often on idea and image than on character, this has little impact on my writing. However, I’m very glad to have a physically active job in the restaurant, where at least I’m on my feet and on the move for an extended period of time. I won’t pretend this is any athletic endeavor, but it’s at least more “physical” than sitting in front of a computer at the office job—which bears too much similarity to the physical posture I have to assume as a writer.
My editorial work helps expose me to a very wide range of work by other writers, which inevitably influences my writing, and also helps give me a sense of how my work relates to that of my peers—not only the well-known, well-published writers.
Thanks so much for this interview, Alessandra, and I greatly appreciate your interest in “working writers,” as I’m sure many others do. And now, back to the work….