Five questions with author Dr. Hedy Habra

Posted by Sara Volmering on

Where do poets find inspiration? We recently chatted with WMU author Dr. Hedy Habra about her fourth poetry collection, "Or Did You Ever See The Other Side?".

Hebra will give a book talk on her new collection on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at 4 p.m. in Waldo Library, Room 3014.

Q&A with Dr. Hedy Habra

The title of your latest collection, "Or Did You Ever See The Other Side?" is intriguing. Can you share the inspiration behind the title and how it reflects the themes explored in your poems?

The title of the book, "Or Did You See The Other Side?", hints at uncovering the hidden, unseen side of things. All the poems' titles in the collection follow the same pattern, and are questions starting with the word "Or." These questions invite readers' participation in unraveling the poem's meaning. The word "Or" underlines a certain ambivalence as well as the duality within our own selves and opens the door to different interpretations.

Since most poems were inspired by women artists' artworks and address feminine themes, I chose to illustrate the cover with one of my paintings, "Woman, Lotus & Crane," portraying a woman seen from the back, so we can only imagine her hidden face and expression, in anticipation of the questions raised throughout the book.

Could you share a little background on ekphrastic poetry and how you became interested in it?

The term ekphrasis derives from the Greek and means description. Initially, ekphrastic poetry referred to the verbal description of a work of art, mostly a painting or a sculpture. Ekphrastic poetry has expanded to encompass different art forms such as cinema, music, and dance, and is no longer limited to description but to interpretation and interrogation.

I have a passion for art and I'm a visual artist. I feel that visual art speaks to me, inciting me to engage in a dialogue with the artwork itself or with one of the characters in the paintings, or at times with the artist. When I write ekphrastic poetry, I do not aim at offering a mere description of the work of art but rather attempt to express my response to it. I usually use the image as a point of departure for an oneiric or surreal recreation departing from the original.

In "Or Did You See The Other Side?" I wanted the poems to stand on their own and only reference the artworks at the end of the book. This way, a reader will enjoy a different perspective upon rereading the poem after visualizing the artwork that inspired it. As a result, the original will never be viewed in the same way and will retain traces of the verbal images.

Your poems explore women’s voices and social and political issues. Was there a specific issue that became a central theme in this collection?

"Or Did You Ever See The Other Side?" is mainly about my responses to women artists' work, most of them surrealists and contemporary, in whose work universal themes are expressed, ranging from different facets of love, friendship, desire, loss, struggle, self-reflection, stages of life, and aging. In many poems, women transcend their limitations symbolically through creativity, whether it is painting, weaving, knitting, or embroidering. They at times resort to daydreaming, musing, story-telling, or taking action in an attempt to recreate themselves. Throughout the collection, several poems address a yearning for justice and freedom, following immigrant's dreams and the plight of refugees.

As a professor at Western Michigan University, how does your experience in teaching impact your creative process? How do you balance your roles as an educator and a poet in your daily life?

I have taught Spanish for over three decades while constantly studying English and Spanish literatures and other languages. It was always challenging to juggle between teaching and learning, writing critical essays, and writing creatively. It was great to alternate sitting behind a desk or standing behind a lectern.

I am now retired and can focus primarily on my creative writing. I drew inspiration and expanded my knowledge by introducing my students to Spanish literature. As a result, I feel that Spanish and Latin American literatures have left a profound imprint on my writing.

What advice would you give to aspiring poets and women writers?

Reading extensively is the key to writing. Aspiring writers should focus on reading as much as possible, primarily in the genre they are most interested in emulating. I have found that reading across disciplines and genres, including philosophy, art, and science, among others, cross-pollinates and enhances creativity.

Keeping a journal is important because it triggers introspection and self-reflexivity and journal entries become a source of inspiration for future drafts. Getting into the habit of writing daily even for a short period is important even if it is only to jot down thoughts and revise drafts. It is also essential to keep revising one's work and let it sit for some time between revisions.