Q & A with Dennis Hinrichsen – 2019

Dennis Hinrichsen is an educator and well known poet. He is the first and current Poet Laureate of Lansing. He has nurtured the talent on other poets as well as producing his own stunning work. Dennis will also be joining us at A Rally of Writers talking about the life of a poet and how he sees this world.

You have been writing and teaching poetry for years. What keeps you connected to poetry?

Poetry for me became a way of being in the world. Of paying attention. Being alert. And then the sense of joy and play at the core of it. And the sense of discovery. Poets are always crashing things together via their figurative imagination and making new things, new elements, in the world. In short, it’s about being alive—you read with your body, you write with your body, your poem [just black marks on a white page] impact the reader’s body. And mind. What an amazing alchemy to be part of!

How has your work changed over the years to what it is now?

In the early days, I thought I had things to say and fought to find the form for those things. As I’ve gotten older, I realize I don’t have much to say, if anything at all, but now have a clearer sense of form and how it guides the act of discovery. So I am writing more and being surprised more by what I end up saying. And I’m confident with that process—leaping into the unknown and mapping the territory.

Marketing poetry is hard. What is the top tip you would give poets around getting their work into print?

My mantra always has been: good writing will find an audience [given time]. So ‘write killer poems’ would be tip one. The rest is about doing research, using NewPages, for example, to know who’s looking for what, getting a feel for editorial slants, etc. Networking is important, attending conferences, etc. And then my second mantra: always have something in the mail. Steel yourself against rejection. It’s a matter of quality, luck and timing in the end.

How did you build a following?

Still working on that. Being involved in your local community helps—branching outward into the larger region also helps—connecting, in my case, with other Michigan poets. It’s hard. Once you have a book, you are solo—you are the booking agent, the bookstore, the promoter, etc. There’s not much help coming from the publisher in most cases.

Do you experiment in other genres?

I have in the past—short stories, essays, part of a novel. But not recently. Poetry has continually opened up for me and seems endlessly engaging at this point. So I continue to pursue that with a lot of energy.

What’s next for you?

My term as Lansing’s first Poet Laureate ends May 1 so I return to either civilian life or some Poet Laureate afterlife. Probably, a little of both. More writing in the former, and then some projects that will stretch into next year in the latter. I’m really interested in seeing what happens when we have a new Poet Laureate and a former Laureate still working in the community as we continue bringing poetry to the three county area. Many good things have happened with more to come.  So plenty to keep me busy and engaged.

Andrea King Collier
Freelance Journalist and Author
Portfolio: andreacollier.contently.com
For A Rally of Writers 2019