Tell Tell Interview Series: Hannah Rousselot on Evolving between Collections and Building a Poetry Community.

Poet Hannah Rousselot unpacks her brand new poetry collection, Ocean Currents, taking us through her inspirations, as well as giving us a glimpse of what’s coming next. She also walks us through developing a fresh podcast during the pandemic and more in this interview with Tell Tell Poetry!

Hannah Rousselot (she/her) is a queer French-American poet, writer, and educator. Her work revolves around her experiences with mental illness, love, loss, and her connection to the world. Her poetry has appeared in many publications, including Parentheses Magazine, The McNeese Review, The Blue Nib, and The Broadkill Review. She has published two poetry collections, Fragments of You (Kelsay Press, 2018) and Ocean Currents (Finishing Line Press, June 2021).

In Rousselot’s Ocean Currents, the world unpeels around us as the speaker witnesses their own psyche. Not only does Rousselot take on the language of possibility in her work, but she also tackles mental illness incisively, showing how vulnerability can be both a triumph and an act of violence. Throughout her collection, Rousselot illuminates how even our innermost senses of trust can be breached: “even now, / I can’t trust my own perception of my hurt.”     

–Samantha Fain, author of Coughing Up Planets

Poet Hannah Rousselot Chats with Tell Tell Poetry

Layla Benitez-James: Hey there, this is Layla Benitez-James with Tell Tell Poetry. I’m here with Hannah Rousselot. She is a queer French American poet, writer, and educator. Her work revolves around her experiences with mental illness, love, loss, and her connection to the world. Her poetry had appeared in many publications including Parenthesis Magazine, The McNeese Review, The Blue Nib, The Broadkill Review, and she has published two full-length poetry collections, Fragments of You, out with Kelsey Press, and Ocean Currents which is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Hannah, thank you so much for joining Tell Tell Poetry today.

Hannah Rousselot: Thank you so much for having me.

LBJ: Yeah, and huge, huge thanks for letting me get a sneak peek of Ocean Currents. I saw the pre-order ships soon in June, and I was going to ask you if you had your physical copy yet which I see behind you.

HR: So I actually don’t have a physical copy, but what I did do, hot tip is I printed out the cover, and then I laminated it. Just so that there’s a visual for when I do readings. And it helps give a little bit of an idea of what the book will look like. That way people don’t have to necessarily like, imagine it. And also whenever I see people doing readings, and I want to get their books down, it’s so much more helpful if they have it in the background because then I have time to write it all down and you know, it’s just a lot easier.

LBJ: Yeah, I love it, thank you. And the only thing I’ll mention is that, online, it looks like the Ocean Currents script is pink and there’s like, these little pink lines in the waves. It’s a really beautiful design. I really love that.

HR: Yeah. So I actually took that photo while I was visiting my grandparents in France. And it was right when the sun was setting, and I saw this pink on the waves and it just astounded me. So I snapped a photo, and the ocean has always been really, really important to me. It’s just something that has really lived within me for like, my whole life. And so when I wrote Ocean Currents, and I was looking through my photos, I was like, this is the one, this is the one I want to use.

LBJ: Ah! That’s gorgeous. Yeah, it’s such a soft cover and that pink is amazing, but I wouldn’t necessarily notice the pink in the waves except that it’s pulled up in the font. And not everyone can have that relationship with their cover either. Sometimes you just get, the publisher gives you something.

HR: You get what you get.

LBJ: Yeah, you get what you get. But, oh God, it’s so perfect. And so I highly recommend that everyone gets it, or pre-order it, you know, it’s going to be out in just under a month. But I loved reading your collections together in the same day. Because they’re just so incredibly different, but there were these threads that kept coming through. I mean, like the ocean is a huge one that you just mentioned. But even like, salt, and you mention the sweat, and I was wondering, what was the process like? Composing those poems and ordering them and how much time was between those collections?

HR: Oh, well, it’s interesting. So Fragments of You really was kind of pulled out of me, right? It’s about my first love and her death. And it was, for a very long time after she died I couldn’t write at all. And I’ve always been able to write, and I just couldn’t do it. And then when I started writing it just kind of all poured out of me. All of these feelings, and thoughts and regrets, and grief and all of that. And I’m a very tactile person, and I also . . . Like the feeling of, like these bodily functions that we have, like, sweat and tears all of these things have a taste of salt to them just like the ocean. And so there’s this idea of like, everything is connected, right? I mean, we are all connected, to be that person. And so when I was writing Fragments of You I had like, some of the bits of Ocean Currents as well but I wasn’t able to focus on them until Fragments of You was out. Because I just, I needed Emma to . . . I needed her to live that way. And I still write many Emma poems, like all the time. But once I was able to really like, share her with the world that’s when I was able to kind of focus a little bit more inward and think about, well, what has it been like to live with my type of brain you know? Everyone has their own type of brain, but my brain can be difficult sometimes. And what are the things that ground me? And often, the things that ground me are the physical sensations of like, swimming. And then also, like, this is kind of embarrassing, but when I was a kid and I was sad, I would write in my journal, and I would make sure that my tears touched the pages. That way I would know I had been crying. And I feel like that’s a lot of poetry for me, is I want to make sure that my tears are like, on the page you know?

LBJ: That is so, yeah, that is just like, classic poet. But it makes so much sense that there was a little bit of overlap between the collections as well. Like, that some of the poems were composed because they really feel close. Those poems.

HR: Mhmm, yeah, and I think that’s kind of how it is because I, so, there’s a poet (and I don’t know their name) who talked about a boneyard and it’s kind of like where you put all of your lines, and half-finished poems and all that. And so whenever I’m really struggling with writing a new poem I go through that boneyard and that’s where I find like, oh okay, this poem that I wrote like, three years ago that you know, there’s maybe like, a line that I can take from this that I can then build into something new. And that’s a lot of what happened with Ocean Currents, but some of them are also like, especially the beginning poems, because the beginning poems are very like, in the midst of struggling and, you know, these themes of . . . All of the themes right? Like self-harm, like suicide, all of those things are at the beginning. And then at the end it kind of takes a little bit more of a healing prospect, you know. And kind of learning to live with what you have and finding coping strategies for these things right? Because for a while, it kind of feels like you are like, in that current. Like you’re stuck, you’re being pulled and pulled, and pulled. And you kind of learn how to create your own, I mean your own like, lighthouse. You know?

LBJ: Yeah, is “The Dead Sea is the Lowest Place of the Earth,” is that at the end of that collection?

HR: Yeah, it’s the last one. And it’s just about, like I . . . I went to the Dead Sea actually. I lived in Jerusalem for three months during college. And there was something about it, just the fact that it’s the lowest place on earth but it’s also the only place that you can float on the ocean. Just like really spoke to me because it’s this idea of like, even if you are at the depths of like, whatever, sea level, or the depths of yourself like, there’s still an ability to float. There’s still an ability to stay on top of whatever is happening to you and to have like, a certain level of like, wonder I suppose.

LBJ: Yeah, when you were saying that, I thought the line, “Contradictions are what keep us breathing.” That just came like, yes, yup, that is it.

HR: Mhmm. Yeah.

LBJ: Yeah. And then, can you talk about your process of ordering your books, just on a physical level? Are you somebody who prints everything out and has to paste it to the wall? How did that look for you with the two books and was it different or do you have your routine that you go to?

HR: Yeah, I definitely have a routine. It needs to be printed out. I can’t, there’s no other way to do it. So I print them all out, and then I organize them by tone and feelings. So I put them in different sections. And then I think about how they interweave. I think a lot about length because, you know, you don’t really want to read like, a super lengthy poem and then another really lengthy poem.

LBJ: Right.

HR: And I think too about like, when I organize them by tone I don’t even necessarily keep them in those organized spaces because then like, every poem has its main tone and then kind of like its undertone. And so it’s about like, okay, how do I weave these together. Because you want there to be a narrative for sure, but you also don’t want it to feel like three different collections. So there’s a way of weaving it so that there’s a little bit of the last tone in the beginning, and a little bit of the middle tone throughout and just so that, like, when I think about you know, Fragments of You it’s even split into sections and it’s very much like . . . Like, within, the grief and then the quasi-healing however much you can heal from grief. And then with Ocean Currents it’s the same thing right? It’s like, the stuck in the middle, stuck in it and then then the slow, coming to some level of healing you know? And I kind of, healing is such an interesting word because it’s not like you can ever be, it’s not like it will ever close up you know? Like, there’s always going to be a scar, and it will reopen at times but that’s kind of the best way to describe it.

LBJ: Yeah, and then in terms of images, when you’re putting together Ocean Currents did you have Fragments of You in mind or were you trying to go with the blank slate?

HR: Yeah, I kind of just went with a blank slate. And I mean, you know, your work stays with you right? I’m sure that, to some degree there was this thing in the back of my mind, but for each of my collections, and I just finished a micro chapbook, I really do think about what is happening in this collection. Like, what is, what am I trying to say with these particular poems? And I think that’s also why they feel so different, because they are to some degree. They’re different parts of me. And so like, I really want my next collection, we’ll see if it works out. I really want my next full length collection to be about love. And so that has been a really interesting thing because I don’t write that much about love. And I want to kind of figure out a way to translate a lot of the love that I’ve received and the love that I’ve given both to myself and others. So there’s these different themes that go throughout all of the works.

LBJ: Well yeah, tell us a bit more about the micro collection. I heard in your last podcast, you said that you were doing poetry month. You were doing it, and you wrote a poem a day which like, congratulations, that’s a huge!

HR: Thank you! Thank you! Yes, I did, I did. And it’s interesting too because like, I wrote a poem for each day but there were some days that I skipped, and then I wrote two poems the next day. Because I was like, I can’t do this. I can’t do this today. So I would write two poems the next day. Yeah, and so my micro chap book which I’m trying to get published. It’s not out anywhere right now. But it’s called Appetite and it’s about my eating disorder. And I’m really, so when I was in college I was like, very, very much in the midst of it and you know, I went to like, residential treatment and all of that. And now, my recovery is more based on like, recovering, right? Like looking at the underlying themes of why these things happen and like, why they happened to me but also why they happen in general. And so when I was doing National Poetry Month these were the poems that were coming out of me. I guess I was just ready to process this and to think about why this is something that I have clung onto for so, so long. Like, why is this something that I felt was necessary and that I felt was useful to me for a certain period of time right? Because that’s a big thing that you think about when it comes to these illnesses is, well this must have served me at some point. So like, what did it serve? Why did it serve that? And why do I no longer need it? Like, what do I have that will serve me in the same way instead? Yeah, so that’s kind of what the [book is about]; we’ll see if anyone picks it up.

LBJ: I love the title. Appetite, yeah, that is a good one. So those are new poems? Like really fresh.

HR: Yeah, like within the last month fresh. Within April fresh, yes, yes. Yeah, and it’s interesting because some of them came out, I don’t know like, how other poets do it but like, sometimes for me, like some poems come out like fully formed. Like they just come out onto the page and that’s that. And then other poems I’m like, okay, I really have to rework this one, or figure this out. And so that one had a bit of both.

LBJ: Nice. And then, I mean I want to ask you a little bit more about the podcast you’re building and your new community. And then specifically, in one of your episodes I was really interested in the S. B. Merrow episode. Talking about how the natural world is a place of healing and exploration of the psyche. And in so many of your poems, I felt that you were really shining a spotlight. I mean, it’s almost like the body is a landscape and you’re traveling into that landscape. I’m thinking about “Vagrants” where you say, “Deep in the ventricles of my heart there is a pool of light illuminating a bus stop where I sit waiting.” And that zooming in and out was so beautiful, but I just feel like the natural world also really lends itself to that. So could you talk a little bit about that hold that influences your poems?

HR: Yeah, well like I said before, and this isn’t a, an original belief, but I do think that we are all connected. Like a part of me, not a part of me, I believe that we’re basically like an organism, you know? Kind of like how our cells are us, we are the cells of something bigger. And for me, like, in order to understand myself I often have to look outside. And kind of see what is happening within the world that reflects what’s going on within me. Because that’s just easier sometimes to look at bigger things than to look . . . There’s a connection and a feeling that is unparalleled then when you see yourself reflected in the natural world right? Like, when you’re in the middle of a thunderstorm and you can hear that thunder and it shakes your bones, it’s like a manifestation of your feelings that is experienced by everyone. And that’s what I see when I look at the natural world. And it also, you know, I think humans got a little too smart. And I think we lose a lot of our connection with the world because we just, you know, we’re caught in like, capitalism and all of these things that make it so it’s impossible for us to really focus on anything but survival. Which is funny because you think about the natural world and you think, oh, survival of the fittest and all that. But really now we’re in a different kind of survival and it’s not even as tangible, to be honest. But yeah, when I think of myself, I think of the world. And I, you know, you can feel so isolated when you struggle with mental illness. It can feel like you’re the only one who feels this way and you know, you’re the only one, it’s kind of, it’s almost like a God complex. Like, you’re the only one who feels this way. You’re the singular human who has experienced this.

LBJ: Totally.

HR: And part of healing is to let go of that and to let go of that superiority and be like, no. You’re just a human. And these things happen to many people and it’s just part of life. And the natural world reminds me of that.

LBJ: Yeah, nice. That also really makes sense like, with the zooming in and out. Like, that kind of God complex. Like, you’re a giant and then you’re tiny.

HR: Yes!

LBJ: When you’re in the natural world, yeah. So tell me more about the Poetry Aloud podcast. Because it’s still in the beginning stages, still in the first year I think.

HR: Yes, yes.

LBJ: Yeah, and it’s so wonderful, how did it come about? You’re wanting to build a poetry community, and I really love the format, and so I wanted to hear a bit how you came to the format. I listened to the latest episode with Karen Poppy and it’s just really lovely. The passion for poetry is so present in your voice, it’s lovely.

HR: I do love poetry. Yeah, so, well you know, for a long time I’ve been writing reviews on my website of poetry books, and I’ve been doing that for probably almost a year, maybe longer now. And I really enjoy engaging with the poems in that way but there’s something, so just for those who don’t know, like, basically I have an author, a poet send me their favorite poem from their collection and then I pick a favorite poem and I read them, and I tell the readers what the author said about it. And that to me is really, the meat of it because you know, when you read a poem you can get so much out of it. But what’s really cool too is to hear what the author wanted you to get out of it. And that connection between what the author was thinking, you know, X, Y, Z and then oh, that makes so much sense based on what I received from it. And being able to talk about those things is really, really cool. Like, to me, that’s such a privilege to hear what authors think about their work. And then being able to share poetry with people and being able to share what I think about it and what connected to me is really important. And then I close it out with a poem of my own which I got to say, I love reading my poetry, I really do. Like, I love performing, I love going to open mics. It’s something that I really enjoy. And you know, when I think back to high school and college talking about poetry, and just books in general but it was always something that was so personal and important to me, and being able to have that discussion, even if it’s kind of one-sided because it’s just me talking. But there is also the words of the poet there. Because I have them send me a little write up about their poems. And so being in discussion with that, it just, I don’t know. Honestly, it brings me joy. And I think I just needed a little bit of joy in the pandemic. I needed something.

LBJ: Yeah.

HR: And this is how I did it.

LBJ: Yeah, that’s a beautiful thing to come out of that. And were there other podcasts that you were inspired by? Or are you just thinking it’s going to evolve organically? Or where do you see the podcast in five years?

HR: So, I listen a lot to podcasts but actually none like my own. I listen to a lot of like, fiction podcasts. I listen to a lot of story podcasts. Especially sci-fi, where it’s kind of like a radio play almost.

LBJ: Yeah!

HR: And you know, I haven’t really thought about the future of Poetry Aloud. I think I’ve just kind of thought, you know, I’m just going to do it and see where it goes. And so far, I have a pretty long list of people who want to be featured. And so I have a bit of material for a while and you know, I think I’m just going to, I think at the beginning, I was very focused on like, it has to be up by this specific time. It has to be doing X, Y, Z, all this sort of stuff. And, you know, as I said before it was really a project born out of joy. And so I kind of had to take a step back and be like, you know what? Like, it will come out when it comes out, let’s try and make it once a month at least. And make it really be like, a passion of joy, a project of joy. Because like, otherwise what’s the point you know? Like, I’m doing it to have fun and to engage with something that is so incredibly important to me.

LBJ: Yeah, no, it sounds like it. The passion is very there in your voice. And yeah, I’m excited to hear the next one but no pressure on when you want to release it. Well, so finally, we’d love to hear about some of your favorite books. And maybe hear about poets who people don’t talk about enough. Or just really hear who you’re reading, who’s poetry is giving you life just now?

HR: Yeah, so I have three [books] here. One I’m in the middle of reading and I just like, it’s so good. So it’s called, book of lullabies by Megan Leonard.

LBJ: Oh wow.

HR: And I’m halfway, I’m like, not half, I’m reading it right now and it is like, absolutely incredible. It’s one of those books where you read the images and you’re like, I never thought about it that way but that’s exactly what it’s like you know? I love it when I read poetry like that.

LBJ: Yeah, the design is beautiful. Will you hold it up again? It’s really long.

HR: Yes.

LBJ: Yeah!

HR: Yes. Oh my goodness. And if you look at the poems themselves, oh goodness, you can’t.

LBJ: Whoa! No, I can, yeah, we can see it.

HR: Yes, there you go.

LBJ: The lines are really, really long.

HR: You can see.

LBJ: Ah, that’s amazing.

HR: And there are some that are like, kind of prose-ish.

LBJ: That is so cool. I love stuff that’s going out of the lines of the normal page. Like, I just want to experiment more with that.

HR: Yeah, and so I really, really love this so far. I can’t wait to finish it. I honestly recommend it to many people out there. And then the other two I’ve reviewed on my website. One is Knock-Off Monarch by Crystal Stone. And I really like this one because well, again, like there is also that element of like, concrete poetry.

LBJ: Oh yeah.

HR: Which just always speaks to me. I love when poets do things like, outside. But for me as well, this one spoke to me because I just saw myself in it honestly. This idea of metamorphosis because it starts out with the egg, and it goes all the way to the Painted Lady which is the knock-off monarch.

LBJ: Oh yeah!

HR: And this idea too of like, being a knock-off, being not exactly the way that you’re supposed to be. And you know, these things that were supposed to happen to you that didn’t. And it’s, again, like the contradictions, the paradoxes that are in our world. You know, there’s, it starts with childhood it goes all the way to adults. And there’s kind of this dream, I’m looking through my notes right now, kind of like this dream state of what could have been and what it ended up being and how to live with that. I thought that was very cool. Oh, here’s another one that’s kind of concrete as well.

LBJ: Oh, that’s lovely.

HR: And then the next one is Glorious Veils of Diane by Rainie Oet. And this book, I have never read a poetry book like this before. I reviewed it on my website and Rainie just did such an incredible job. It’s so interesting because it’s all about this character, Diane, and it’s about how other people perceive her and how she perceives herself. But it also jumps through time and so it starts with the premise: “On January 14th, 1999, Diane disappeared.” And then it goes, it jumps through time. So there’s times when Diane is there and times when Diane isn’t there. And all of the poems are titled either “Blood” or “Blood Diary,” and then they have different names behind them, and they all have dates on them. And I just, I read this, and I have, as I said, like, I have never read a collection like this before. And it’s one of those collections that just like, kind of burrows into you. You know, like, you read it once and you’re like, whoa. And then you read it again and it just kind of like, it gets to the basement of your mind, right? Like, to the, like, this part of your mind that just, you don’t necessarily think about up here but is still so connected to you. So I would, yeah, I would really recommend this. It’s really awesome. And those are the three that I have right now. Again, like I review a lot on my website so readers can feel free to take a look and see what I’ve reviewed there. I have a bunch coming up as well. But what really speaks to me about other collections is these images that I never would have thought of but kind of like, pierces to the heart of it. And then collections I can learn from. And I feel like all of these collections have something I can learn from.

LBJ: Amazing, okay well thank you so much for joining us today.

HR: Of course.

LBJ: And I hope and talk with you soon and read your new collection very soon. Thank you.

HR: Thank you so much Layla. Thank you.

Hannah Rousselot’s Book Recommendations

On the search for your next read? Check out Hannah’s book recommendations here. Happy reading!



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