It is my pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague in this month's spotlight , Shawnie Hamer.
Shawnie Hamer (she/her) was born in the heat & dust of Bakersfield, CA. Her first book, the stove is off at home (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) is an experimental art & poetry book curated through a community ritual focused on the identification & exorcism of trauma. Hamer is the founder of collective.aporia, an international arts collective offering monthly workshops & *apo-press. Her latest manuscript, The Rage That Raised Us (formerly The Rage That Raised Them) was a finalist in the 2021 Essay Press Book Content, judged by Ronaldo Wilson. She proudly received her MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University where she was able to befriend the most inspiring group of artists she's ever met. She lives in France.
What inspired you to manifest Collective Aporia?
Collective.aporia was manifested from a deep longing for community. In 2018, I was traveling by myself around Europe. I purchased a one-way ticket and was planning to mosey my way around from country to country, working freelance gigs and odd jobs for room and board until the money ran out.
The year before, I had graduated from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. It was there that I had been lucky to find and establish an incredible writing community (a family of writers, really) that had opened my eyes to the inspiration and influence of a collective. In fact, my entire writing process had shifted because of it. What had previously been a somewhat lonely act was now infused and supported by the love and insight of my friends/teachers.
Needless to say, I was missing this dearly on the road. I wished they were with me. And what’s more, I was meeting other creatives on my trip that I wished I could introduce to my community back home.
On New Year’s Eve 2018, I stood outside the home of an artist I was staying with in Kendal, United Kingdom, drinking cheap champagne, and a question came to me: how can I create a space for community and creativity that can be accessed by everyone at every time?
The next morning, I began writing down every idea I could think about it. What it would look like, how it would exist in the world. When I went back to visit Colorado that following spring, I shared the idea with Sarah Richards Graba, Swanee Astrid, and Vera Linder over cocktails in Swanee’s apartment. It was from there that we began solidifying the dream together.
What Draws you to poetry, writing, and the arts?
I view this question through the lens of two roles: writer and collective member. They are not separate by any means, but an oscillation of energy that has greatly impacted my life.
As a writer, really for as long as I could remember, I have been drawn to writing and reading because of its ability to recreate the world. In the pages of a text, we can reimagine both the mundane and the fantastic.
As a little girl, I would create forts protected by teddy bears and books, where I would go to explore both the light and dark aspects of life in the pages of my journal. It was at once a safe place (maybe the safest) while also incredibly vulnerable—a practice in taking a leap into the unchartered rooms of imagination.
When I finally grew enough to leave my fort, and then leave my hometown, I began to fully realize that the intentions that creatives can have for this kind of exploration, as well as the influence it can hold on society/a person’s life, was powerful. Maybe the most powerful and consistent force throughout history. I examined how creatives could bend and break the rules and edges that I was banging my head against. How they could even expand borders and boundaries of the self.
Now, as a JKS grad, I am obviously very influenced by Anne Waldman and the work she has done over her incredible life. Not only has she amassed an outstanding library of work, but at every step along the way, she has created radical and safe spaces for her writing communities. She has truly been in service to poetry for over 60 years.
It is this service that draws me to my work in the collective and the writing that ensues. I want to create texts and spaces that create homes. Places for joy, growth, and grief. Spaces for connection and empathy.
I want to give back to poetry and the love it’s given me. It’s this love, this radical love, that will always keep me coming back.
Do you have any tips for others that want to do what you do?
The first (and most important) is to find your people! Collective.aporia would not have been and would not be without the steadfast volunteers and friends that dedicate their time and care to it. Find the people who believe in your vision, that are not afraid to challenge and expand it, and that want to see it manifest with the same level of excitement as you do.
The second is to try to not do everything at once. It’s a sure-fire way to burnout, but it’s also really enticing. Find the focus of your dream and work diligently on that. Once you’re established, then you can begin expanding your operations.
Lastly, don’t get so caught up in your service that you let your own creative practices go to the wayside. It is so easy to do; I’ve done it and I’ve seen so many others do it, too. You must fill your own cup before you can fill anyone else’s. Not only is a form of self-care, but it’s also important to remember that being a collective member requires creativity. If that well is dry, your participation, and therefore the organization itself, will suffer.
I. Primary Desire
In the beginning it was just this: all the known things we can no longer see. That you no longer know. The moment the ice breaks. The water freezes. The smell of spices on the stove.
I come to you now, and I’ve all but forgotten. The first inclining towards divine, loving you.
As I prepared to leave, the ghosts descended. To help me pack my belongings, nothing actually mine. The dusty altar candles, the string of orange lights, the books stacked one by one. The home I created at once sacred infestation:
A queue of spirits knocking on the door.
An army of mice under the sink.
The neighbor with the shotgun under my feet.
It was here I told you of my dreams. The way the sheets moved under and around our bodies. The ancestor with the tendency to push her hands down on my chest, to see, she said. You have to stay here to see.
So, I left.
Sold my 28 years piece by piece in the front yard. To strangers with noisy minivans and sweaty pits. Much to the neighbors’ chagrin. What is it about travelers that we find so intriguing, untrustworthy? Abandoning the address, the daily routine, must mean something is amiss.
It’s true, something’s not right. The wall you helped me build is crumbling, and I can do nothing to fortify the structure.
I’ve also grown fond of hallucinating, in red wine and cigarette haze. Watching the faeries. Playing Sound & Color on repeat as I see the future appear in front of me, through the pines. The Eiffel Tower, your coming. The hot lightness of my body in the claw foot tub or the Mediterranean Sea.
You don’t believe me, but I didn’t flee. I didn’t realize it at the time. No, back then when we sat on benches and snowy bar patios, I told you I was desperate to escape. The 12-hour work days, pouring drinks and teaching APA to community college warriors. The way your eyes changed when you mentioned her name. The feeling—no, the knowing—that this city, every city, is just out of reach.
All the things you knew deeply when you first arrived aren’t known here, the past life reader explains when I ask about love.
Here’s what I know for sure:
I learned the most about God when I defied the people who guarded the gates. Breached the baptismal pool, wet and heavy. Imagined the faces—the ones not readily available in such a dusty town. The ones in foreign lands, who called to God differently. Or not at all. And when I called upon the broken stewards outside of the city limits, I opened to the possibility. The holiness of the underbelly. God is not stationary, like the pronunciation of a word. But rather is people, which is to say, never still. A movement. To surrender to the unknown often means saying goodbye.
Here’s what I know for sure: To find God travel was to find the ability to love you.
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