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Oregon Literary Fellowship Spotlight: Toni Hanner

Throughout May and June, we’re highlighting each of the 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients on our blog. Applications for the 2015 Oregon Literary Fellowships are online now. Applications are due in our office by Friday, June 27, 2014. For more information about how to apply, contact Susan Denning at susan@literary-arts.org.

Toni Hanner of Eugene is a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient in Poetry.

Bio: Toni Hanner’s poems appear in Yellow Medicine Review, MARGIE, Alehouse, Calyx, Gargoyle, and elsewhere. She is a member of Red Sofa Poets in Eugene and Port Townsend’s Madrona Writers. She had two books published in 2012: The Ravelling Braid from Tebot Bach, and a chapbook of surrealist poems, Gertrude, from Traprock Books. Gertrude was a finalist for the 2013 Oregon Book Award for poetry. Hanner lives in Eugene, Oregon with her partner and fellow-poet Michael Hanner.


What are your sources of inspiration? 

Language itself is my main source of inspiration. I work a lot with word lists and writing prompts and exercises my writing group and I find or invent. Also, family, of course. Death.

How would you describe your creative process? 

Oh god. I don’t have one. Or, I have one but it’s a mess. I read a lot of poetry. I don’t think most poets read enough. I have been reading a lot more than writing, lately, and it doesn’t worry me because everything I read works on me without my knowing it. I also rely heavily on word lists. I almost never write unless I have a word list with me. I use writing prompts and exercises from any source I can find. My creative process is more like paint by numbers than actual creation, I think. Do they still sell those painting kits? I used to love them, the little plastic pots of color, the weird white map of The Mona Lisa filled with little blue lines and numbers.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship? 

At first, just the HUGE honor of it! I never in a zillion years thought I would receive such a thing. Then, when I thought about what I could do with the money, that was fun, too. I write a lot when traveling, so I intended to put the whole thing into a travel fund for a trip to France.

What are you currently working on? 

The past three or four months have been difficult—Michael and I have been dealing with a lot of health problems and that has taken a huge amount of time and energy. Now, I am thankful and hopeful that most of these difficulties are behind us and I can start writing more. Through it all, I kept up my writing practice group, so I have mountains of material that may end up in poems eventually. The fellowship enabled me to go to Port Townsend for a two-week residency and to the Oregon coast to attend the Northwest Poets’ Concord, among other blessings. In July, I will attend the Centrum Port Townsend Writers’ Conference (also with fellowship funds), where I am hoping to write like a demon. I don’t think I’ve answered the question and if not, it’s because I seldom am working on a specific book or project. I just try and write one poem at a time and then when I seem to have enough poems I really like, I put them together for a book or chapbook. I’ve heard good things about Amazon’s CreateSpace for self-publishing and I may try to produce my next book this way.

What advice do you have for future applicants? 

Shoot, I don’t know. Include your best work in your writing sample. I applied twice and was awarded a fellowship with my second attempt. I suspect being a Finalist for the Oregon Book Award in the previous year may have been a factor, but I really don’t know.

Sample Work


Daddy plunges into the bloom of Mama,

he Rococo, she Art Deco, together


they make the little worm that will become me—

Picasso girl, one blue eye, one green,


an earlobe made for biting, a cherry.

It is the first anniversary of Fat Man


and Little Boy, August, and American men,

maddened honeybees in a field of lavender,


are intent on rebuilding the world they knew

before. Instead they’ll make a new world—


they’ll invent the housewife, the child.

The women they left behind have grown huge,


they no longer know how to love them.


Black Rabbit

he’s lost this morning,

at sea with the black rabbit,


drying from wounds merely footnotes*

stars–o, not twinkling, we can’t say twinkling,


but we can say twitching

electric seizure, we can say jazzed on K or E or whatever letter they’re doing now at the clubs where girls vomit (in the bathrooms, careful not to spatter their size minus dresses).


he’s lost this morning,

no sleep in the night,


rolling and pitching in an insomnia-storm

a night on the blood-wine


sea. There can be no sweetness,

no flowers blooming except those hairy ones singing for flies.


*suffered and split, salted, stripped, blood drying beneath a blue cap

Autobiography at the End of Snow

I am not a spoon, I am a shovel.

I am the battery in your flashlight,

the cracked spine of your favorite book,

the poem you never got quite right.

I am the joke candle on your birthday cake.


I am the heavy breathing at the top of the stairs,

the snuffling behind the locked cellar door,

I am the smell of sleep.

I am reach and clench and empty.

I am not a knife, I am a straw.


I am the fruit at the bottom,

the blue lights around the dance floor,

the grit in your shoe.

I am coked up behind the wheel of a  white

Camaro in a blizzard. I speed.


I jimmy. I am keys to the jail.

I am not slaughter. I am more subtle

than that. I know when to turn away.

I am a rain gauge filled with spiders.

I am a dry time covered with black snow.


Judge’s Comments

By Kate Daniels, poetry judge

All sharp edges and flashing imagery, Toni Hanner’s poems transform the chaotic visual and aural detritus of contemporary life into poems brimming with small epiphanies and brief illuminations that help us bear the load. A visionary poet for our times, Hanner does more than merely lament our current state, offering us brief, poetic possibilities for respite in art, work, and what remains of our formerly glorious pastoral world.

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