Women on Top: Hannah Beth Ragland
What did you want to be when you were ten years old?
When I was ten I wanted to be a fiction writer more than anything else! I was actually obsessed with it, and was constantly “writing books” in little journals, starting at age eight and going on until I was about 18.
What did you get serious about first, art or writing?
I was definitely serious about writing first. I got really into writing during elementary school, and I went to an arts high school where I majored in creative writing. Even though I drew a lot and crafted a lot as a child, I didn’t buy my first sketchbook until I was 15 or 16, and even then it was just something I started doing to relieve stress! By high school I was feeling a lot of pressure to be a good writer. I had started establishing myself as a pretty decent writer; I was winning some small awards and publications by that point. My friends and family and teachers were really supportive of my work, but I felt a lot of anxiety, and writing became something I did to meet expectations rather than to express myself or be creative. I felt much less pressure when it came to drawing because no one really expected me to draw. I don’t see myself getting too serious about art or attempting to show my art or make it my career at any point in my life – I really love to have art as a release and not something I feel like I need to do.
If you had to pick a favorite poem you’ve written, which would it be and why?
This is pretty difficult to say, but I think one of my more recent poems, "Eulogy For A Dead Bird," is definitely one of my favorite pieces of writing that I’ve done. I had a health scare this summer that left me feeling really vulnerable and scared. I also found a dead bird in the hood of my car on the day of a doctor’s appointment, and it just felt like that poem wrote itself!
What about a piece of art from your sketchbook?
I honestly don’t think that I can answer this question, because I don’t really have a favorite! I guess that in general I like the work that I’ve been doing with paint lately for an upcoming pop up exhibit here in Tallahassee. I’m also learning photoshop, so I’m hoping I’m going to be making new art of a higher quality soon! Forcing myself to work in other mediums is always really good for me creatively.
What’s the most rewarding thing about making poetry and art?
I just get an immense satisfaction in making something with my own two hands! Creating has always been instinctual for me, something I just do without even thinking about it. I honestly can’t even go a couple of days without making at least a little something, even when I’m at my busiest. For me it’s essentially like scratching an itch that just wont go away.
What’s the most difficult?
I’ve found that the most difficult thing for me about making art is self-doubt and self-criticism. It’s especially difficult to get started on something, but once I get over that initial hump I get into the zone and just work though it. I think a lot of doubt comes from comparison; it’s so easy to hold your art and your progress up against other artists and beat yourself up for not being as “good” or “successful” as they are. Especially because I didn’t go to art school, or even take art classes in high school, I often feel insecure about lacking technical skill. I used to worry a lot more about it. I’m sure that trained artists can tell that my work lacks a lot of the mechanical understanding of art that they have – for instance, I don’t know anything about figure drawing, shading, scale, etc. – but I’ve started to look at it differently now. I think that being self-taught gives me a unique understanding and perspective, and has allowed me to keep art fun and engaging and not too serious.
All of your poetry comes across as very honest and raw. What’s your advice to young women writers who might be less confident speaking so honestly?
My advice to all young woman writers is to read a lot more woman writers. Not only will your writing improve just from reading the work of established authors, but often times we aren’t exposed to enough important female poets, especially in high school. Seeing women express their emotions unapologetically can be really empowering. I think it was all of the poetry I read when I was younger that eventually allowed me to see my emotions as valid and worth writing about and sharing. There’s a huge stigma against young female writers. People are quick to dismiss our writing as “trivial” and “too feminine” and “overly emotional.” But poets like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Anne Carson, Warsan Shire, Carolyn Forché, Marianne Boruch, etc. show the beauty that can come from women exploring their emotions, their love, their grief, and their thoughts.
And lastly: If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would absolutely love to have lunch with Toni Morison. In my opinion she’s one of the greatest writers who ever lived. It’s always been a huge dream of mine to talk with her, or even see her speak in her lifetime.
All images from Hannah Beth Ragland.