Jami Hanreddy was a language arts/English teacher for most of her career and authored several books for English Language Learners, one of which is now in its seventh edition.
Before retiring to northern Door County in 2010, Hanreddy taught students to find their own voices in their writing, but she had not given much time to finding her own. It took a few more years – and encouragement from Estella Lauter and Max Garland, former Door County and state poets laureate, respectively – to believe poetry might be the vehicle she needed to explore the “vast reaches of mind and spirit.”
Hanreddy lives in an interspecies household in Gills Rock and wonders at the life she is privileged to lead with her companions near Death’s Door.
What is your writing routine?
I used to get up very early every morning to write. Maybe from 5 to 8 in the morning. Then walk the dogs and eat breakfast and do it all again the next day. But we got another puppy last fall, and if I stirred, then she stirred – and you know what that means with a puppy, right? But she’s nine months old now, and she’s learned from our older dog that sleeping in is a good thing, so I think I’ll be able to revive that routine soon.
What do most well-written poems have in common?
Perhaps if it touches or tickles the intended audience in some way, then for me, it’s done its job. And that audience, of course, may be only a few or it may work for a great number of people. But, of course, as an English teacher, I did guide my students to look at specific things in poems that made them beautiful, profound, amusing, that touched on human foibles as well as heroism, on absurdity and paradox, as well as just the sheer music of language.
What do most poorly written poems have in common?
Well, I’m picky about punctuation and phrasing used meaningfully in order to fulfill an author’s intent. If certain punctuation and line breaks make you misconstrue the message, then that’s very distracting. But these things are easily cleaned up with the help of feedback from your writing group or a friend. What’s really hard to fix is vacuity, a poem without heart or depth of feeling or humility.
Is it important to understand the meaning of the poem or for the reader to be able to “solve” it?
Not always. There are some poems that you can just let wash over you. You can let your intellect rest for a bit and just savor the music, the rhythm, the heart-stopping punch line.
But I personally get bored by poem after poem that only the author understands. I am not in favor of elitist, Joycean jokes that alienate a large swath of people for whom poetry has become something to avoid.
Why can’t a poem be straightforward and beautiful, full of profound ideas and masterful metaphors to which we all can relate? Of course, Amanda Gorman has set a new bar for just that in her recent reading at the inauguration last January.
What book are you reading right now?
I recently finished Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar. It’s a fascinating read if you truly want to understand a variety of perspectives you might not have been unaware of before. But I definitely recommend first reading his other novel, American Dervish – a Door County Read selection that was very well received here a few years ago – and also his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced, for some context before tackling Homeland Elegies.
Peninsula Poetry is a monthly column curated by the Door County Poets Collective, a 12-member working group that was formed to publish Soundings: Door County in Poetry in 2015 and continues to meet.
Elemental Elegy he was earthy she was airy he wore boots and plaid flannel shirts she donned silky frocks with flowing skirts he moved steadily through the hours task after task completed she gazed rapturously at birds wolves pages him as days depleted he allowed no room for lies no need for penance she squeezed the truth a little to drink its essence he was solid and ever humble she could make the heavens rumble he could tell stories that made you blush she matched his fire thrust for thrust he was salt of the earth and never mean yet she was the rain that washed him clean
Italian Blessing At 50 years old when youth has run its course when the body has fully ripened and become just a little too plump for her to be comfortable in her own skin she finds herself bicycling alone one afternoon on an uphill climb in the Dolomites wondering if her lowest gear will be enough to take her over the top when a gang of four approaches from behind making her just a little nervous being the only woman on the road that day and being not just a little self conscious in light of their lithe bodies and balance as they ride along hands free to grab her ass? to knock her over in derision? or worse? to completely ignore her? But no… instead they bestow just the blessing she needs at this moment Ciao Bella they chorus as one after another place a gentle hand at the small of her back and with a wink and a nod help her over this hump Harald’s Heart On a typical grey day in June in Santa Barbara the kind that drives the tourists mad Harald and I headed down to the beach we rotated to every fifth day or so for our daily excursion. It wasn’t the socked-in kind of grey the kind where you can’t see the Channel Islands and can’t even make out the roll of the wave before it hits the beach. It wasn’t the kind of grey where your face becomes wet dripping with fog or sweat from the run or both. It was the pervasive kind of grey saturating everything and the air was crisp not wet even though there was no wind. All was simply grey -- the sky the islands the grains of sand the seagulls the shells the 15 or so wooden steps down to the beach. And the dog my beautiful boy today he was grey too having just had a haircut which revealed his salt and pepper undercoat. The rest happened all at once as I was still collecting myself He ran down the grey steps to the grey sand dotted with grey grasses and grey shells and under the close grey sky he ran along the wet, shiny grey sand at the water’s edge. And before I had gotten all the way down the stairs for the sheer joy of it he turned on the juice and ran full-out like the greyhound that we knew was in him somewhere or so the vet said ran full out not chasing anything no seagulls no frisbees no ball just to run…..to soar. And at that moment my heart leapt. No, it was more of a silent whoosh! like an alien abduction and I too was running down the beach although still there in the middle of the stairs frozen there. I was feeling the wind that I made as I ran in my hair in my fur as I was sucking the salty air into the lungs in my powerful barreled chest. I was not in my body but in his racing racing racing joy joy joy! He felt it too and he/we stopped and looked back over our shoulder to acknowledge my body back there on the stairs. We cocked our head and smiled at one another racing along the grey foam for another five minutes or so until an old friend called to me and the spell was broken.
Linoleum a local poet laureate once told me that if there was one word that should never be used in a poem it was: LINOLEUM but Mary Oliver’s cat drank milk from a blue bowl on yellow linoleum and arched and stretched her black body before going out into the world to leap to and fro for no apparent reason and it was from the safety of the checkered linoleum under the kitchen table that I heard my uncles curse a witch named “Brazen Hussy” that had beguiled my grandfather and it was on the speckled linoleum of the high school multipurpose room that we stood mesmerized by their twelve strings and blonde frizz as they sang of Silence and Ms. Robinson And besides… it was only the yellow linoleum that gave that musty old kitchen in Brugge its warmth as even then on our honeymoon I knew it was over
“P” WORDS (for pup pee training) My pandemic puppy’s personality evolves piece by piece pound for pound so it’s plainly impossible to pen a poem portraying the panoply of who she is at the moment or who she will pan out to be in perpetuity. But there may be portents of things to come in how and where she chooses to pee and poop. Not on her pillow or mine, praise be! But also not on the predicated predictable grass. Instead she pounces on putrefying leaves ‘ first pushing her perspicacious snout deep into the pile as she pants after plush baby bunnies or pusillanimous mice. When she decides to postpone the death penalty for the bunnies and pardon the mice she pliès to pee, then takes plenty of time to pace back and forth and forth and back to make sure there are no poisonous snakes or spiders or so the pet pundits claim before she pretzels into poop position and leaves the leaves a perfect present.