Friday, March 18, 2016

Poets to See at AWP: Stephanie Barbé Hammer

I met Stephanie Barbé Hammer at the first annual San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival held in 2013. I walked into the make-shift bookstore before its posted opening time to see if the clerk would take my chapbook and broadsides on consignment for the Lit Fest. Stephanie was standing on the customer side of the counter, reading a book through her red-framed glasses. I discovered that she was there for the same reason as I. Recognizing her as a member of my clan--the rare group of people who show up more than fifteen minutes before the posted opening of any event or business--I immediately liked her. 

After she asked me who my favorite dead poet was, and we discussed the finer points of Whitman, I learned that she was a professor and a fiction writer, as well as a poet, with a new chapbook from the Chicago-based Dancing Girl Press (I went to grad school with its Editor-in-Chief, Kristy Bowen). I was ready to cancel whatever I was going to do next in order to attend her reading (which I did). 

I'll never forget the short story she read, and how every time someone came in late, she would stop, look up, re-state the title--"Having Sex With a Martian"--as if she were saying "Have a seat, and try to keep up," and then proceed with the next sentence. Her magical realism fiction is...well, magical. And her poetry sets its hooks deep into the marrow of what it means to be human, with language that is quirky, yet accessible, overall providing just the right mix of mystery, pathos, and humor, subverting readers' expectations without losing them in the process. You'll see what I mean when you read the sample poem that she sent me for this post, "Woman to woman," from her most recent collection, How Formal (Spout Hill, 2014).


          Woman to woman (for Alan Dann)

          A woman came up to me in Bloomingdales and said she liked my glasses and I told her 
          where to get them and she said, “what do you think I am --  a millionaire?” and stomped 

          A woman came up to me in grad school and said she wished she was as smart as I was 
          and I told her where to find the good theory books at the library and she said ‘what do 
          you think I am  -- stupid or something?” and threw down her copy of Derrida’s  On 
          Grammatology and stomped off.

          A woman came up to me in the airport in Montpellier and said “Ce livre --  De La 
          Grammatologie par Derrida – c’est à vous?”  and I told her I had picked it up off the 
          ground in North Carolina, and the woman said "Quoi?  Vous êtes un connard 
          Américain?” and lit a Gauloise and stomped off.

          A woman came up to me in the hospital and said “this is your baby,” and I took the baby, 
          but she said, “I can tell already you’re a terrible mother,” and threw the baby blankets at 
          my husband and stomped off.

          A woman came up to me at the swimming pool and wanted to know why my 2-year-old
          daughter was laughing at her classmate, and I explained that she had never seen a penis 
          before, and the woman said “DON’T USE THAT FOUL WORD IN MY PRESENCE, 
          threw a beach ball at my head, and stomped off.

          A woman came up to me at my house and said she wondered what all these little girls 
          were doing, drawing with chalk on the driveway, and I said they were friends of my 
          daughter and she said “YOUR CHILDREN ARE OUT OF CONTROL”, and the girls 
          started laughing, and they all took giant steps behind her as she stomped off.

          A woman came up to me at the university and said she wondered why everyone was so 
          mean to each other on campus, and I said “what do I look like – a therapist?”, and she 
          said “actually, yes, you do,” and stomped off.

          A woman came up to me at a shopping mall entrance, and gave me a Kleenex because I 
          was crying into the telephone fighting with my husband, and I said “thank you” and she 
          said “don’t mention it; I know how you feel; you just wish you could stomp off.”

          A woman came up to me at the Northampton bus station, and she said she knew me from
          somewhere, and I said “I am your mother,” and she said “I know -- I’m just kidding and 
          being weird!” and then she laughed and pretended to stomp off.

          A woman came up to me on the beach and she said she knew where all the magic stones were,
          and I put down my copy of Derrida, and laid out a beach blanket, and we took turns 
          stomping off and looking for magic rocks and then bringing them back, lying on the 
          beach, telling each other stories, while wearing each other’s sunglasses.

To catch Stephanie at AWP, plan to attend her reading at Chevalier's Books, 126 North Larchmont, Blvd., Los Angeles 90004, Saturday night, April 2, at 6:00 p.m. 


Descended from Norwegian plumbers on one side, and broke bohemian Russian aristocrats on the other, Stephanie Barbé Hammer has published short fiction, nonfiction and poetry in The Bellevue Literary Review, CRATE, Pearl, East Jasmine Review, Apeiron, and the Hayden’s Ferry Review among other places. Stephanie’s 2014 poetry collection, How Formal? is available from Spout Hill Press. Stephanie taught Comparative Literature for many years in the University of California system, where she won two distinguished teaching awards. She continues to teach writing and the love of world literature at nonprofits, writers’ conferences, writers associations, bookstores and religious centers. Most recently, she served as a writer in residence at two private colleges in the People’s Republic of China. She divides her time between Los Angeles and Coupeville Washington, where she lives with her husband, interfaith blogger Larry Behrendt. She is a 4-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize.

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