Poet of the Month Hannah Masterson on Appropriating Classics for Modern Audiences

Every month, Writer’s Edit selects one work to feature as our Poem of the Month. This year we’re going behind the scenes of the writing to discuss inspirations and influences with the authors themselves.

I talked with South Coast writer Hannah Masterson whose poem ‘Nevermore’, a modern ode to Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’, was chosen to be our March Poem of the Month.

Hannah Picture
Our March Poet of the Month, Hannah Masterson. Image Credit: Hannah Masterson

Tell us about yourself! What’s your writing history like, and what are your accomplishments so far?

I’m in my third year of a Bachelor of Arts (Deans Scholar) degree at the University of Wollongong, and I major in English Literature and Creative Writing. This is actually my first publication!

I’ve always experimented with the short story and script, but I’ve tended to shy away from poetry. I eventually took a Poetry Studio class at uni, where my lecturer told me that my poetry was quite amusing, and that I should consider submitting it for publication.

I feel as though becoming a poet was a bit of a happy accident – one that has encouraged me to continue to experiment with form more often!

Where did your inspiration for the poem come from, and what was the writing process like?

I’ve always been drawn to spoofs and appropriations. In high school drama I was encouraged to explore the form of Mumming, which takes a fairy tale and appropriates it to fit a current (usually political) event.

I, and my other classmates, wrote several of these scripts, which twisted things like ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ into scripts which joked about modern day politics – all in rhyming couplets and with a song every few minutes.

So, two years later, when I was trying to come up with a poem to submit for a uni assignment, I returned to the form I knew best. I wrote the poem in around half an hour, made a few minor edits, and submitted it.

'Nevermore' explores relevant themes of binge drinking and social media... Image Credit: Andrew via Flickr Creative Commons
‘Nevermore’ explores relevant themes of binge drinking and social media… Image Credit: Andrew via Flickr Creative Commons

Why did you decide to appropriate ‘The Raven’, and how does the original poem reflect your modernised version? What is similar, but what is also different and new?

I didn’t read a great deal of poetry before I started uni, but there were a few poets that had made an impact in my teens.

I had read ‘The Raven’ and instantly loved the rhyme and meter. When trying to come up with a new poem for my assessment, I returned to the poems that introduced me to poetry.

The rhyme and meter struck me once more, and I knew I wanted to do something to emulate it. I decided the best way to do that would be to appropriate it. I kept the same meter and rhyming scheme, and selected a few stanzas to copy.

I tried to keep enough of the original words to make it easily identifiable as ‘The Raven’. The subject matter is, of course, entirely different and new.

I’m certain that Poe didn’t have access to Tindr and goon during his writing process.

Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite, must-read books?

I’m in a constant love affair with classics. If it’s Victorian or Romantic, I’ll read it. I adore Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Thomas Hardy. I love how each author presents a commentary on the world around them, replicating social situations and making a statement on the issues of their times.

Gotta love the classics... Image Credit: reihayashi via Flickr Creative Commons
Gotta love the classics… Image Credit: reihayashi via Flickr Creative Commons

Also, I’m a sucker for a bit of melodrama and romance. I had always enjoyed poetry, and came across authors such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and (of course) Edgar Allan Poe throughout high school, but I fell head over heels for Seamus Heaney when I was sixteen.

Even though he’s definitely not a comedic poet, the way he deals with such difficult subject matter, and his style of writing have definitely been of great influence to my other work.

As for my favourite, must-read books, I’ll have to say Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and Open Ground by Seamus Heaney.

What advice would you give to other writers? What’s the best lesson you’ve learned?

Never be afraid to experiment. Even if a form seems intimidating, or the subject matter seems out of your depth, just try your best.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Kyra Thomsen

Kyra is a writer and editor from Wollongong. She works full-time as a content writer while reading on the train and drafting short fiction stories in her spare time. Kyra won the 2012 Questions Writing Prize and has been published in Kindling, Seizure Online, Space Place & Culture and Tide. She enjoys admiring her bookshelves, watching cheesy shows on Netflix, and browsing her Tumblr. You can learn more about Kyra's previous publications, plus find fortnightly posts, on her website: kyrathomsen.com.

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