It’s my great pleasure to bring you another conversation with a poet I admire, H. Hennenburg. H.’s work is deep and multilayered yet accessible to the reader. As a follower of her blog, I delight in both her written and spoken words.
H. Hennenburg grew up in the United States and immigrated to Canada in 2007. She became a Canadian citizen and has lived with her family in beautiful British Columbia ever since. H. is a life-long poet and songwriter with a deep love for the interconnectedness of life and a profound sense of wonder for what lies beyond our capacity to see. She shares her thoughts and poetry at her blog: www.hennenburg.com, a home for truth, joy & wonder. A self-respecting introvert, she posts not very regular updates on Instagram @hhennenburg. You can also check out her spoken-word and song recordings on SoundCloud.
In this conversation, we chat about her recently published collection of poems, Riders of the Tempest: The Story of WE, writing in the time of COVID-19 and more. The book is available from Amazon for FREE, hurry and get your copy!
Khaya Ronkainen: The “Possibility” Poet! I must say, I enjoy responses I get from poets when asked to describe themselves in just one word. The outcome is always a surprise yet very meaningful. So, how did you end up the “possibility” poet?
H. Hennenburg: Well, I noticed I choose the tag “possibility” for almost every poem I post on my blog. Much of my work seems to focus on, or at least suggest, the notion that something more is possible. For a moment, I toyed with calling myself the “part-time” poet, because my muse likes to flit between different forms of expression and isn’t always on board for poetry if, for example, music or some other form of writing has caught her eye. But then I supposed that didn’t make me less of a poet, and I realized the theme, “possibility,” runs strong through whatever form of expression I’m using.
KR: About your book, the title alone calls on a reader’s mental image to create a tempest; a violent storm to ride out. This visualization creates a physical connection, an actual feeling, with the poems instead of passive reading and a hope to find the “hidden” meaning.
I’m always curious to know how poets choose a title for a collection. So, how did you come up with this title as both a title of the book and a poem?
H.: You know how people often say, “I didn’t choose the puppy; the puppy chose me!”? That’s how things work for me with titles. When I finish writing a poem, I read back through it to get a feel for what meaning it carries for me. Pretty readily, a word or phrase from the poem that symbolically encapsulates that meaning will stick to me. So, that’s how the title for the poem Riders of the Tempest came about.
As for the book title, many of the poems I was writing in 2019 seemed to form a cohesive story in my mind about a collective journey from individuality to oneness. I knew when I wrote Riders of the Tempest that it tells the entire tale, in its symbolic way, from beginning to end. So, it was obvious for me that it would be the title poem for the book. But “The Story of WE” also kept rattling around in my brain as I imagined the tale unfolding. We – each of us individually – are the riders of the tempest; but WE is the oneness consciousness this story imagines us yearning for and ultimately transitioning into. So that became the subtitle.
KR: I read the book a few times, and The Story of WE kept changing meaning with each read. So, let’s look at different experiences and outcomes of my reads:
At beginning of the collection, there’s a sense of overcoming and enormous strength that propels the speaker forward. Looking at this excerpt below, I hear the speaker tell “their” story.
You beg me not to hope
But I am alive
Life is teeming in me
Already I’m revealing what I’m made of
excerpt from Supernova
Could you shed some light on how The Story of WE was inspired?
H.: I was inspired by my own sense of oneness with all life and my belief that a great deal more exists in the universe than just what we can see. Supernova came to me as an expression of the hope these things engender in me. It speaks to the phenomenon that all living things, just like stars and Supernovas, have no choice but to move forward in the expression and living of our truth and oneness. So, you’re spot on when you mention that sense of forward propulsion.
A star – made of the same elements as Earth and you and I – expresses light by burning those elements. It has no choice but to be and express what it’s made of. If a star enters supernova, it has no choice but to eject the remainder of its unused elements back out into the universe to eventually combine with other elements and become something else (like a planet or human). Everything is recirculating as part of a larger whole.
This is the story of WE: we are always moving toward oneness, because we are one. We have no choice but to be what we are. We can move in peace or we can move in a storm, but we can only move into the truth of our oneness. I experience that truth as something profoundly good, even as I grieve and struggle to understand when we behave in ways that deny and reject that truth.
KR: On second read, I start to see the story of “us” come together. The speaker’s truth; a piecing together of their world as if for the first time they are aware of the love and acceptance available in this boundless natural world. This opening up and claiming what has always been there, love, is a climax unto itself. Everything else is a bonus…
And is it here that I laugh again
Because you are so close
That I can feel and know and love you
You are in my very own particles
And yet you are uniquely apart, as am I
Here, I lie back and open my soul
To the immensity of that truth
excerpt from The Art of Touching you
But I wonder, is this a love story or a story about love?
H.: I love the way you put that, because at the heart of this poem is a growing awareness that there is no difference between a love story and a story about love.
This poem appears near the beginning of the collection where the individual is moving through various trials and discoveries on the way toward oneness consciousness – which is ultimately love. It focuses on the desire for significant other as reflective of an individual’s yearning for that oneness – the boundlessness you refer to. But in the end, as you observe, this poem accepts that boundless love is all around. At the same time, it acknowledges the bittersweetness of having a profound experience of that love that does not include touch, something an individual in a physical existence longs for.
KR: I hear you! And yet I can’t say for sure whether I’m at the beginning or middle of this story because something tells me this can’t be the end. So, I go back for a third read feeling like an intruder meddling in a private affair. In any case, I re-enter as I’m still looking for the ‘story of WE’.
After wading in deep sea, riding a storm, I’m finally lifted by a wave. But…
Do I breathe a word
Or does the sky fall into my mouth
Erasing the story?
Excerpt from Now the Way Is Open
Indeed, do I dare tell the reader how I came to see the ‘story of WE’ or should they find out for themselves! With that said, what is one thing you hope the reader takes away from this collection?
H.: That we are bigger than the world we live in. The universe is an infinitely larger place, and there is far more going on around us than what our eyes can see. We are part of all that. I hope my book might inspire a sense of wonder about what this means for us and what it would be like to allow an awareness of this to influence our story going forward.
KR: How has writing in the time of COVID-19 been like for you?
H.: I feel like it’s an enormous privilege to even think about what writing is like during the pandemic. So many people are struggling to maintain their health and meet their basic needs. I think about how fortunate and grateful I am to have something I can do that brings me a sense of meaning and purpose, when I’m stuck at home and shut off from my usual activities and interactions.
Admittedly, the lack of those interactions, and having very little change in scenery, has made it challenging to find inspiration for new poetry but I have turned to older, unfinished writing and music projects and breathed new life into those instead. I’m actually trying my hand at my first novel – a story I began work on and abandoned a few years ago.
I think about how fortunate and grateful I am to have something I can do that brings me a sense of meaning and purpose, when I’m stuck at home and shut off from my usual activities and interactions.
KR: You are also a talented singer and songwriter, I’m curious to know how much of your poems end up as songs and vice versa?
H.: Thank you, Khaya! That’s very kind. You know, I’ve never had a poem end up as a song or vice versa. They simply arrive as one or the other – they have a tune or they don’t – and so far I’ve never tried to transform one. I’ve gone through long periods when I wrote only songs, but over the balance of my life, I have written far more poems than songs. Last year, I had the unique experience of writing a piece that began as a spoken word poem but transitioned mid-way into song. I decided to have some fun and record that one for you and put it up on SoundCloud.
KR: Oh, how kind of you! I appreciate this a lot. Thank you so much for this treat and I sincerely hope readers will enjoy it as much as I do.
Now, the question I ask everyone, how does poetry feature in your everyday life?
H.: Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to speak of how “writing” features in my everyday life, as I can’t say that poetry, specifically, does. To me, whether it’s poetry or song or prose, it’s all coming from the same source and is the same exercise in terms of fulfilling the most deeply rooted and foundational aspect of who I am. Wherever this writing comes from in me, it is the thing about myself that I most cherish, and when I’m not in touch with that, I am disconnected from my Self – the Self in all of us that is connected to every living thing. You know, it’s really just love. It originates in the same place from which love springs. So, writing offers me a point of connection to that source in my every day life.
KR: In the wake of Black Lives Matter, many publishers have been promoting works by BIPOC authors. Have you read any book of poetry lately from this category that made you think differently about poetry? What and why?
H.: The events and systems that necessitate this movement reflect and unearth so much pain for, within and about humankind. They can cloud our ability, and perhaps even challenge our willingness – our courage – to envision what is possible. When I think about standing in the face of hatred and nevertheless holding firm and courageous to love, I think of Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee. I return to their words and lean into the messages they gave us. If you haven’t heard Rudy Dee recite her poem, I Am Somebody, I’ll share this video link because it is quite powerful. The clip also includes Alicia Keys speaking about the significance of Ms. Dee’s life-long activism. Both women’s words are very relevant today.
Ruby Dee, I Am Somebody: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1869519829746244
I also look equally to songwriters, and two whose work have moved me especially during this time are H.E.R. and Emeli Sandé. I don’t think these poets and songwriters have made me think differently about poetry, but rather strengthened my belief in its power to inspire courage, hope and determination in the service of love.
KR: Thank you so much for the introduction and sharing of Dee’s poem. It is powerful, indeed.
And last, I can’t help but ask, are there any poems that didn’t make it into Riders of the Tempest collection? If so, why? I’m asking because I had hoped to see one of my favourites, Heart Open, among others.
H.: That’s lovely to hear, Khaya. Thank you. I didn’t include any pieces that are specifically spoken word, like Heart Open, because I feel there is some element of them that needs to be voiced, and they don’t carry the same power when read from the page.
There were several other poems that didn’t make it into the book, and that was primarily because, as I read them, I was listening very closely to intuit whether they fit into that backstory that was playing out visually in my mind. If they didn’t add to the mental images, they didn’t make it in. I have since been posting those on my blog – titles such as Insides Out, Mercy, Accord and others. I have a few more to add still.
Thank you, H.
p.s. All excerpts and images used with author’s permission.
To read more about how these kind of features work, see details conversations with poets on my contact page.