Allison Hrabar: Tell me about why you first started writing.
Annie Bolger: I think I started writing from a young age. My parents always encouraged me to write, and they’ve kept copies of a lot of my earliest work, including one poem called “Frog of Thunder.” I’m pretty sure one of the lines — I was thinking of this earlier today — was “he’s evil but charming! He’s one alarming frog.” There’s a couple of other gems there — I wrote one about bourgeoisie cookies. I just sort of went crazy with a rhyming dictionary, and I thought that was poetry.
So that was me as a kid, and I think I got self conscious as I got older, so I stopped. I wrote occasionally through high school, and then in college I started writing again because I took a course on poetry and stories told through verse. That really inspired me: “oh, there’s a thing in my life! I want to write a sonnet about it!” And so I did, and it was a really fun, validating way of expressing myself. So I took a couple of classes in creative writing, and that was that.
AH: How was writing in classes different than writing on your own?
AB: When I’m not writing in a class, I only write when I’m inspired. “Oh, this really dramatic thing happened to me, I must write about it!” Then I’ll sit down and rhyme through it. And that’s kind of interesting, because there’s usually something that’s important enough to me that forces me to sit down and work through it through poetry, but the problem with that is that I only write poems on those certain sets of experiences, and those don’t happen very frequently. When I’m in a workshop, I’m obviously forced to crank something out. So if I’m having trouble, I have to go different sources of information and find different ways of approaching something. It forces me to stretch my brain and stretch my writing in ways I don’t always do outside of classes.
AH: And has writing so constantly changed your perspective or style?
AB: Yeah, it really has. It’s made me be a bit more disciplined writer. It’s made me realize that you don’t always have to wait for this inspiration, that sometimes it’s better to just sit down and try to write something. Even if nothing’s coming, just try it for like five, ten, fifteen minutes. I’ve gotten more used to that process of being stuck and having to write through it.
AH: Is there a particular topic you write about a lot?
AB: I guess I write a lot about connections and relationships. I like to analyze moments of my life a lot. Something will happen, and I’ll attempt to examine it from many angles.
AH: Go into that a little more. Why do you like to write about those things?
AB: I think I like to write about them because I like to think about them, and I also don’t really like to act on things. Sometimes I think poetry is a bit of a way of dwelling on something without actually having to take action on it, which sounds bad. But I think it’s a way of also working through things and trying to see them more thoroughly. How would I tell this in a sonnet form, how would I tell this in free verse. How do I make this experience rhyme?
AH: So poetry has become a way for you to process things?
AB: Yeah, definitely. And then I can look back and look at a collection of work that I’ve made and say, “Wow, I was feeling these feelings at a time.”
AH: What does it feel like to look back on something that you felt very strongly about?
AB: I would say my attention definitely goes to different things. When I’m very much in the moment, I’ll be focused on a certain line and think, “That line was so powerful,” and I’ll focus less on lines that are just trying to get on their way there. So I’ll be revisiting a poem and think, wow, that line doesn’t quite make sense. Or, that line is kind of funny. That’s where this poem ended up. It’s always a new experience, because I’m much less in the heat of the moment, so it’s a little clearer to see how that experience was communicated to someone who was not in it like I was.
AH: Is it hard for you to, especially in class, to share what you’re still processing? Has that become easier as you’re writing more?
AB: Well, everyone is class is very careful about not saying, “Oh, you say this,” or “You said, ‘I am really sad right now’ in your poem, you should say that in a different way.” Instead, people make a point to say that the speaker said this or that, sometimes to a funny extent. I think that when I start pulling out poems that are more personal, it’s been towards the end of a workshop when I feel like I’m surrounded by this community of people that are supportive and know my work. They might know me a little bit, but not too well, so I feel safe sharing those poems. We’re all there with the understanding that we’re all poets, so we can share things, but we want feedback on our work.
AH: Is there any advice you’d give to other young poets in college?
AB: I guess I would say that you’re probably going to write a lot of bad poetry. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not enjoyable to write it, and it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to do it. I very much have a fear of writing bad poetry, or not writing good poetry. And so I think getting past that has been really important to me as a writer. And don’t necessarily look for validation outside for your work. You can seek that, but it can also come from within.
AH: Tell me more about your collection.
AB: So, I recently wrote and published a handmade collection of books entitled Dated. It’s a pun: it’s about the classical world and romance. I am a classics major as well as an English major, so it combines my love of Greek and Roman and old stuff with my feelings about love. It was a really fun exploration of this academic side of my life and this intensely personal side of my life. It was really validating and fulfilling being able to combine those in this creative project.
AH: What was it like physically making your own books?
AB: It was very meditative and obviously very hands-on. It was very gratifying. I had to teach myself how to make the books. How to do pamphlet style, how to stitch it. I went through a couple different versions of the books, and I actually individually tea stained and poured salt on all of the pages. I was able to survey each and every single poem in each and every single version of it. Each book in the collection has turned out a little differently because of that. I think that that has given me this physical, tactile relationship with my poetry that I had never really experienced before. It’s much different than printing out twelve copies and handing them out to the class. When I hold my books, I’m holding on to my poems, and I can see my life’s work right there.
Allison Hrabar is an Honors student at Swarthmore College studying political science and film. In addition to working tirelessly as News Editor for The Daily Gazette, she is a producer at War News Radio, a Swarthmore project dedicated to covering international conflict. She spends her spare time convincing people to watch The Americans (Wednesdays at 10pm on FX) and dreaming of writing for The A.V. Club.