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Hannah Stephings, LISP 2023 Poetry Finalist, 'Sentimental Garbage'

LISP 2023 Poetry Finalist 'Sentimental Garbage' by Hannah Stephings

- When and how did you get into writing?

I've been writing creatively since I was about eight years old, when I used to wake up in the morning to tap our of a 'novel' on the family's huge 90s desktop! I wrote throughout my teens and twenties, mostly focussing on short stories and placing in few competitions, getting poetry in the uni newspaper, began writing for City Girl Magazine regularly but not taking it too seriously, not thinking I was a 'real' writer or poet. It was only in the midst of a science masters, which felt stifling dry, that I did a Red Skies 6 week poetry workshop with Apples & Snakes and felt more alive than I had in years. After that, I began submitting to literary journals and was Pushcart nominated and published both in print and online in The Horse Egg Journal, TAST zine and SNACK Magazine amongst others.

- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?

I aspire to be the sort of writer pens beautiful sentences every morning at 5am with a beautiful scented candle at a mohogany desk but that's not the case! I write the gaps and margins of the day, mostly I jot things down in the notes app of my phone on the bus and come back to a line weeks later when it's still rattling around my brain. I find the containment of the small phone screen or notebook much less daunting than the blank expanse of a word document. I rarely write a poem in one go, it's usually a slow process of picking and rearranging and editing. I have poems that I started work on years ago, odd lines still hanging about in my phone.

In terms of inspiration, other poets! I'm a big reader and 'hearer' of poetry, I listen to a lot poetry podcasts: 'Poetry Unbound', 'Tender Buttons' , 'Apples & Snakes'. I'd also cite love Marie Howe, Ada Limon, and, Jane Hirschfield as influencing my work and as a recovering perfectionist, I adore Elizabeth Gilbert's work on creativity. I try to read or listen to a bit of poetry or read something beautiful everyday, even if it's only a page. Poetry is often my way of untangling feelings, whether reading or writing it, trying to distill tangled emotions into their intense, pure form.

- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

It feels like such an honour and lovely surprise, as writing has been on the backburner for me at the moment as I'm undertaking psychotherapy training and it was invigorating to be reminded of this creative part of myself.

- What's the best and most challenging thing about writing a Story/Poetry?

The best thing is that elusive moment, when it feels like the creative gods are smiling on you and the ideas and images flow, when you can feel that spark in the words.

I think the most challenging thing is keeping the faith that your writing ability hasn't disappeared forever when creative block hits, knowing inspiration will return at some point and to just keep reading, listening and noticing.

- How did you develop the idea for your LISP-selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?

When I showed my friend this poem, he called me the 'Taylor Swift of poetry' which I took as a huge compliment. I'd just come out of a peculiar pandemic romance and whilst doing the obligatory 'end of tenancy' clean of the flat where relationship played out kept I kept finding my hair, and wrote this is one angry rush in my childhood bedroom at my parents' house.

- Can you please give us a few tips about writing Poetry?

Write about the stuff you always find yourself dissecting with your friends at 3am over the dregs of the wine bottle, write about things that matter to you, that hurt, be as precise as possible. Specificity is the key, it's the window- grand abstract ideas are dull without an anchor in everyday life. Nothing is too mundane to be written down. Embrace shitty first drafts, and shitty second drafts too.

- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?

Knowing my words resonate with others, that I've capture something small and mundane that feels significant. The most challenging aspect is knowing your work will be rejected a lot and not letting that dent your commitment to creating. During a workshop, I was once given the advice to aim for 365 rejections a year because then you've put your work out there every day!

- Lastly, do you recommend the writers submit to LISP?

Absolutely, I think it's a wonderful organisation aims to champion, inspire and build an exciting, diverse community.



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