Virtual Salon #4 with Elizabeth Hazen

We've been called so many things that we are not,  
we startle at the sound of our own names.  
          -Elizabeth Hazen, from "Devices" 

I’ll be teaching a virtual Whitman and Dickinson course in our May term, and because it may be pass/ fail only, it’s especially urgent to come up with assignments my undergraduates will genuinely want to do. Here’s one, although I forget where I picked up this idea because I’ve been doing SO MUCH READING about virtual education: create a virtual meal based on the reading, including a menu and place settings. Dickinson has so many poems about the lack of food (“It would have starved a Gnat–,” etc.) that this idea is weirdly perfect for her poems.

There’s a similar concern with binge and privation in Elizabeth Hazen’s Girls Like Us, as she describes in the interview below. Sometimes zooming in on pain, sometimes regarding it from a wry distance, Hazen focuses on intense material: gender-based violence, addiction and recovery, and, not least, the damage even language itself can do. In style, she’s what Marilyn Taylor has called a “semi-formalist,” sometimes writing in slim columns of free verse but elsewhere deploying meter and rhyme; these shapes work the way Adrienne Rich said her own formalism did, as a way of approaching a conflagration with “asbestos gloves.” The heat in Hazen’s second collection is fierce, but so is the beauty. See, for example, the last poem in the book, which makes my heart ache: “Monarch,” among the earliest poems Beth and I chose for the new Shenandoah.

If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

This is a tough one . . . many poems in the book explore alcoholism and its fallout; others allude to disordered eating and anorexia – so the question of appropriate refreshments to go with this book is fraught . . . If one wanted to emulate the women in many of the poems, straight liquor – any kind – would be a fitting refreshment; another version of the party’s menu could be the austere black coffee and stale donuts or off-brand cookies so often associated with recovery. A wild array of mocktails would be better suited to a celebration, though, and I do love kombucha. Powerbars would be an suitable snack – not for their substance, so much as for their names; this collection looks closely at power dynamics, particularly those related to gender, and I’m a sucker for puns.

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

So far, I would say, I am physically healthy. My mental state is stable. I have adopted a “one day at a time” approach to moving through these weeks and months. I am trying to actively practice gratitude each day, lest I fall into the trap of bemoaning all the canceled events and missed opportunities. I am getting used to my own face staring at me as I record videos for my students. I realize that I miss them, and this is bittersweet; I will be very happy to be back in my classroom again.

When I’m not busy with school-related work, I putter. I completed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and my crossword game is growing fiercer; I have been considering cross-stitching. Writing comes in sharp little bursts, then eludes me for days. I am trying to be patient, to find a voice that’s louder than the one telling me all the things I “should” be doing. I am finding a new rhythm, as we all are, and trying to remember that this, like everything, is temporary.

How can your virtual audience find out more?

You can find me at, but the best way to learn more is to check out my publisher’s website,

7 responses to “Virtual Salon #4 with Elizabeth Hazen”

  1. This book looks wonderful. Thanks for these virtual Salons.

    “SO MUCH READING about virtual education”– yes, it is a real challenge to gear up so rapidly. I’m finding methods of delivering writing support to students online, and am grateful there is quite a bit of information on the web, everything from scholarly studies to useful tips from various blogs.

    Meanwhile, the big surprise for me is that students are seeking the assistance. I thought they’d feel so overwhelmed by the transition that they might abandon the writing center as, well, not terribly necessary. I’m glad to report that our students have actively sought us out online and have been patient with us as we and they navigate the weirdness of tutoring through a virtual space.

    May we all stay well and sane!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s a strong book and I suspect you’d like it a lot! Very brave. Also, I’m so glad OUR writing center is up and running virtually. We need to be present to our students and our friends and family however we can.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just wanted to note that I’ve been enjoying this series too.

    As to your intro matter, the upcoming Dickinson/Whitman course. It’s maybe too obvious, and more importantly it risks being too non-literary, too abstracted from the text, but I’ve sometimes tried to imagine what a conversation between the father and mother of modern American verse would have gone like. Once when I was college age I tried that as a story. Back then I figured them in my internal imagination as sort-of Bogart and Hepburn in “African Queen.” That was a mildly amusing caricature that isn’t fair to either of them as I understand them now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Frank! I like this idea and to make it more literary, I wonder if it would work if I had students construct the dialogue entirely of lines written by each poet. I bet I could find a good Whitmanian rejoinder to “I’m Nobody, who are you?”


      • Yeah, Walt would have ten lines to reply to every one of Dickinson’s and Dickinson would need just one line to reply to a hundred of Whitman’s. 🙂


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