Dog Ear Feature – Interview with David Hanlon


What does love look like to you?

True love is unconditional. I endured a harrowing depression in my late twenties and this experience showed me what true love is. It is standing by someone when they are at their worst and most in need of help saying, “I’m here” and “I’m not going anywhere.” I was so lucky to receive this treatment from dear friends, and I am forever grateful for their unconditional love. I wouldn’t have got through my depression without it. This quote by Anne Garbor encapsulates it perfectly for me: “To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.”

Were you a happy child?

I was not a happy child. I was a damaged child. When I look back there was so much chaos and destruction around me that I feel I was just fighting to survive, without really knowing it. I think I was like a deer in the headlights for most of my childhood. As I’ve grown older and more aware, I can see the damage this has had on my mental well-being. Luckily, I’ve been able to heal many of my personal wounds, but I still notice how that trauma is deeply ingrained in me and how it still impacts on my functioning and behaviour to this day. I think it is about managing this nowadays. It’s finally bearable and I’m able to face my issues without feeling overwhelmed. Meditation, therapy and poetry are healing balms, survival tools that enable me to persevere, to grow and recover.    

Your poetry is incredibly raw, some might call it cutting – what does it mean to be able to express yourself freely, or is there a fear of chiding that remains?

It means so much to be able to express myself freely, especially since my teenage years were spent repressing so much of myself. Poetry is that beautiful gift that has allowed me to open up and express the parts of myself I never thought I could, the parts that because they weren’t expressed had such a damaging impact on my personal growth and well-being. My debut chapbook came out at the beginning of last year and it explores my experiences of homophobia and depression. I felt excited but also incredibly vulnerable when it was released. Touring and reading the poems to rooms full of people instilled much fear in me. But to then receive such love and support after doing so built my confidence and eradicated that fear. I still get vulnerable around my book because it is my heart and soul laid out bare for all to read. This is incredibly exposing, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt in life it’s that showing vulnerability is strength.

What would you say to your teenage self now?

I would say its ok to be who you are. I would give myself a big hug. I would say its ok to talk about what you’re going through, and that sharing this with those you love and trust is an important part of your self-care.

Your debut collection leaves it all on the table. Is there anything that you don’t think you could ever mine for your art?

There are poems I’ve written that I have decided not to put out there to be published. I think it’s ok to explore my own personal world, but I’m conscious not to put poems out there that might be too revealing or identifying of others: family and friends, without their permission. It’s tricky terrain, but I go with what my gut tells me.  

Will your next project stand on its own – or will it be connected to Spectrum…?

I have two collections forthcoming. One is about a break-up and the other delves deeper into my depression. They are connected to Spectrum of Flight as the book details my past relationship and my period of mental decline. However, the book’s main theme is sexuality, and so my depression and relationship were looked at in relation to this, and as a part of my journey towards self-acceptance, rather than as their own issues to be explored. These two forthcoming collections will each focus solely on each experience, and in more depth.

How do you measure success – is it important?

Success is personal. It is not how much better or worse you are compared to another. I believe the healthiest way to measure one’s own success is to compare yourself only with yourself, not with the capabilities or achievements of others. If we get too competitive, we lose sight of ourselves and our own goals. We set ourselves up to fail if we constantly want to be the best. In the world of poetry, I think it is about finding your own voice and nurturing that.   

What are your favourite literary journals?

There are too many to mention. The world of Twitter has introduced me to so many incredible journals, and to be able to access most of these online for free is a wonderful gift. I love The Adroit Journal, and smaller, emerging presses, such as Feral Poetry Journal, Kissing Dynamite, Homology Lit and, of course, Broken Spine

When did you realise the power of language?

When I finally found my own voice. When I could articulate and express my own fears, desires and needs. I remember reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s & Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote when I was in my early twenties; the power of the written word struck me then. Capote’s use of language was extraordinary. I’m fascinated by how language can bring us closer to our experiences.

Can you describe your writing space?

Usually, I jot down an idea or thought in my notes’ app on my mobile phone, and that seedling will blossom into a poem. I don’t think I have a literal physical space in which I write. I guess my writing space is my own mind. Hmm…how to describe my own mind? Scattered yet inquisitive.    

How close is your relationship to your readership?

I think it is incredibly important to connect with your readers. Even if it’s just to say how much you appreciate them. It takes time and effort to read and invest in another’s work. When someone does this with my own, I’m always so thankful and grateful, and love to hear what they think of it, if it’s moved or helped them in any way. A lot of my readers are poets themselves, and I always aim to explore their work, too, which brings me closer to them.   

How do you deal with literary criticism?

It is so important to welcome criticism. This is how we learn and grow. It can be tough to take but that’s ok because in the long haul it does us good. I believe criticism should always be constructive. Putting someone down and picking holes in their work with no acknowledgement of any strengths or potential is not constructive and could knock someone’s confidence. The shit sandwich comes to mind!

Is romance important to you?

It is. Care, affection and intimacy are wonderful things to share with another. Love of all kinds is most important to me. When we live with an open and loving heart, we are stronger, happier and form closer bonds; we can show compassion to ourselves and others. Love is healing; it is the ultimate source of light within us.  

What would be worse, to lose all your memories, or to be unable to make new ones?

That’s a hard question. I can’t decide. Memories are precious. To know that each moment is a potential new memory is thrilling. I wouldn’t want to lose that; but, equally, I wouldn’t want to forget what has made me the person I am today. Even the painful memories are a vital part of one’s own growth and self-development.

What would be your ideal date night?

A good movie, some nice wine and a late-night walk or a cosy cuddle on the sofa. Lots of laughs and sharing.  

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