Alison Stine: Homer is the name of a very small, rural town in Ohio that I used to pass through on my way from my parents’ house to my college. Right on the outskirts of the town, by the side of the road, was a farm that was falling into ruin. Every time I passed, it seemed to slip further: the house and barn needed more and more repairs; their tractors were set out for sale, then there was a sign advertising their horses—even their dogs. I saw two women walking through the long grass together. I assumed it was their farm, and two women farmers trying to make it in small town Ohio—and failing—seemed really sad to me. Over a period of several years the windows were boarded up, the roof collapsed, and the farm was abandoned.
Now I teach at the college in the summer so I make the drive every June, and the house and barn have been completely restored. Someone new is living there now, and I don’t look for them.
HFR: How about your first book, Ohio Violence? How does “Homer, Ohio” fit into the book?
AS: Ohio Violence is about a girl in a small town whose friend is killed, and she turns to the wrong people for support and love. “Homer, Ohio” was an aspect of Ohio I wanted to show: rural and ruinous. It’s also another example of a relationship not working; in this case, the relationship of the farmers to each other and of the farmers to the earth. No one helped them. I didn’t. I didn’t even stop, and turning away, turning aside—silent witness—happens again and again in Ohio Violence. We see but we don’t say anything. We know but never tell.
HFR: What have you been up to since your publication in HFR?
AS: My first two full-length books were published. I became a wife and parent. I bought a piano. I moved to California, New York, then Ohio. I taught at universities for a while, then returned to school to pursue my PhD, and I started working on more intensely on prose, fiction and nonfiction. My first book of essays has been a finalist in the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, and I’m in revisions on a novel.
HFR: Tell us a little bit about your second book of poems, WAIT. What’s the book like?
AS: WAIT was originally titled Persephone in Hell. The book still has a seasonal structure, starting with summer and going until spring. Everyone who read it agreed that Persephone was overdone, but I was thinking about her. I was thinking: What would have happened if she got out of Hades? Who do you date after the devil? Or what if hell was just a small Midwestern town? I had read Banner of Heaven. Child brides in Utah were on the news. I was thinking: What does a feminist marriage look like and not look like? How can a woman be herself, hold onto herself, and give of herself as well? So, poems about love, marriage, and hell, basically.
HFR: Any upcoming publications we should know about?
AS: WAIT came out last year from the University of Wisconsin Press. I have a third book of poems nearly done. New poems from this manuscript are forthcoming in Blackbird and Iron Horse Literary Review. One of the editors said the poems had an eerie quality she couldn’t figure out. They scare me too, but I’m attracted to what scares me, as a writer and a reader. I will say that this book is the closest to magical realism I’ve done so far. The poems are not set in this world.
HFR: What are you reading these days?
AS: I recently passed my PhD Comprehensive Exams, so to decompress from British modernism, I’ve been reading memoirs, something completely different: Just Kids by Patti Smith, Josser by Nell Stroud, Renee E. D’Aoust’s Body of a Dancer, Danielle Deulen’s The Riots. I also just finished the novels Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I crave narrative, apparently.
HFR: If someone were to write a poem about you, what would be the last line?
AS: Wow, good question! People have written poems about me, actually, so I’m going to let someone else take this one.
Alison Stine is the author of WAIT, winner of the Brittingham Prize (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), and Ohio Violence, winner of the Vassar Miller (University of North Texas Press, 2009). A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and a recipient of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, her work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, Kenyon Review and others. Her occasionally-updated blog can be found here.