Mary Hammerbeck



About the poet: I often write persona poetry to free myself from the autobiographical as I pursue creative obsessions & fascinations. A few years back, I invented a central protagonist I call billy americana. billy is a persona born of my own obsessions with borderlands, hillbilly music, road narratives, Bob Dylan, and Spanglish, among other things, yet her character somehow allows me to freely go places in my writing that are beyond the grasp of my autobiographical “I.” Poems written about (or through) billy are about all those other lives I’m after, not just the one that happens to be my present. For example, here’s an excerpt from one of my “billy poems” as  published in A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (The University of Akron Press, 2012, Eds. Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz):


About the teacher: In my creative writing courses at WCC, I like to encourage students to find their own inventive freedom so as to write without limitations, yet I also emphasize craft and structure as means for expressing students’ creative lives. My instruction is based on the belief that craft is a necessary portal for finding and bringing forth artistic inspiration’s true form—that poem or story or creative nonfiction piece we call art when it’s complete. My creative writing students have described my courses as challenging, yet rewarding; I would agree with this description because a focus on craft requires the kind of focused dedication and practice that most often leads to significant growth as a writer. For example, here’s a sample of a writing activity that balances crafty technique with creative invention —a pair of prompts that use structure as a necessary step toward getting at what the poem really wants to do/say: