Marj Hahne – StartUp FoCo Podcast

Marj Hahne

Marj Hahne has a degree in engineering, an MFA, and she’s a copy-editor “by income”. But, most importantly: she’s a poet, and a bad-ass entrepreneur in her own right. Alongside Kathleen Willard, Marj brought together Ray Martinez, Leslee Becker, and Vauhini Vara to discuss creating literary art in Fort Collins. You can check out the panel 4PM Wednesday, February 27th at The Forge Publick House.

Let’s get to know more about Marj!

Hi, I am Marj Hahne, a local poet/writer/writing teacher. I moved to Fort Collins in mid-October from Boulder County. I’ve lived in Colorado on the Front Range since 2006.

My partner, who is co-facilitating our events for Artup Week, Kathleen Willard is also a local poet in Fort Collins.

We’re co-creating an organization called Paragraph to bring hybrid literary arts events to Fort Collins and beyond. We both have a lot of experience and years creating community events around literature and science. Our goal is to find out how many lenses can we put on literature to create conversations that feel hospitable to non-writers. We writers are usually only talking to each other. So, that’s our commitment. We wanna re-engage folks in literature. I personally am heartbroken that our English teachers destroyed poetry for most folks. So, that’s my agenda.

When you say “hybrid literary arts,” do you mean different types of literature?

I mean: how can I have a conversation about the literary arts and science or the literary arts and food, together?

When I lived in Boulder County, I paired beers with poems and spirits with poems. I had poem pairings and it was sort of synesthetic.

How do I talk about a beer in the same way I might talk about a poem? How are these sensuously the same, sensually similar? And, that’s actually one of our events for Artup Week.

We’re having a post-panel mingle where we’re gonna have entrepreneurs who are creatives like artists, we are very similarly minded.

How can I refresh my concept of my business story by thinking about it like a poem, like a painting, and like a beer? So, we’re doing that after a panel featuring writers of diversity who live and work in Fort Collins.

Do you find that in your events, that people have some sort of impediment to the poetry component? In your business, do you experience that same aversion?

Whoever’s showing up at poetry events have already bought in. If they didn’t buy in, if they came with a friend, something about it turned them around.

I used to do a literary series in Boulder called Atomic Circus. We had a water panel and we had a poet (a lawyer from Denver) who wrote about the Colorado Rivers. I had a guy who made business and home water testing devices. I had an underwater photographer and a woman who was a hydrotherapist. So, it wasn’t all writing related, but one of the panelists was a writer.

That’s what I mean when I say “hybrid.” That’s my sneaky way of getting non-writers or people who think they’re not artistic to show up and engage in the arts in a way that is meaningful. I wanna be an ambassador for the arts. People get that theoretically, the arts are important in our culture, and where the money goes doesn’t support that. They already have a pre-conceived notion of what poetry is, so we’re wanting to stealthily seduce them.

Do you find that interdisciplinary approach is vital to your business interests?

It is. Because I have an engineering degree, I relate to a pragmatic way of being in the world. I don’t think it’s separate. I don’t think these are distinct domains. I think it’s all one, big humanity.

What are some of the unique challenges of being a poet in Northern Colorado?

It’s not specific to Northern Colorado. Northern Colorado has a vibrant literary scene. Truly, truly my favorite that I’ve experienced while living in Colorado.

Poetry isn’t a money maker, not even for a publisher, unless it’s a poet laureate type or the big folks who make it, a Billy Collins, a Mya Angelou.

Most of us are making a living by teaching or doing something else, and writing is our, well, we don’t wanna call it our avocation. We feel more strongly about it than that, but it’s not something we put on our tax returns, you know?

It presents a lot of different challenges in terms of time that you can dedicate and how you can proceed in terms of business planning. What are some of the ways that you adapt to that sort of unique challenge?

I’m a copy editor by income, so I have a lot of authors approaching me ’cause they’re wanting to self-publish.

I have them think broadly about who their audience is and what the platform is. If someone has a comedic instinct and they seem to be theatrical and they don’t really wanna sit alone in a room, write a book, and not know who bought the book, I say, “You’re comedic. Why don’t you create a one-man show, and then let people buy your book and take it home ’cause they wanna take a piece of you home, like a postcard?”

That becomes a different way of monetizing ourselves as writers, as crafters of language and presenters of language. That’s what I’m considering, how do I use poetry as a way of talking about something else? And, so I’m developing myself as a public speaker. I’ve done a lay sermon at a Unitarian church. I’m just being sneaky that way and I feel alive when I do it, which is how I know it’s what there is to do for me as a poet.

You have an MFA. You have an engineering degree. You’re a copy editor. It sounds like you’re a multipotentialite. You have a lot of different skillsets to draw on. Is that vital for survival as an artist?

It’s vital for me. Some folks are just completely single focused, they succeed on that merit. That has not been my case.

When I heard the notion of 10,000 hours from Malcolm Gladwell, I said, “I don’t wanna work on poems for that many hours in my life. I wanna do other things.”

I know that about myself. That’s the first thing an artist has to do is tell the truth about who they are, who they wanna be as an artist, and then how do you create that world to serve what you know is true about yourself? It’s doable. Artists are start-ups.

You’ve talked a little bit about the integration of technology with the artistic process. What are some of your favorite ways to integrate technology into your process?

I have to confess that I’m a little bit of a dinosaur with tech, even though I have an engineering degree.

I’ve been writing poems to the elements in the periodic table of elements. So, there’s the science, right? Yes, I do my research on the element, but much more so it’s a doorway into my own life.

There’s another poet named Jena Osman who has done the same thing. Very different, her poems, but she set up a periodic table of elements online and you can click on the element and it links to a window for you to read the poem. So, in that sense, poets are getting really creative about how to present their work.

We’re also seeing the application of art and poetry and music and design in a lot of different fields as well. Can you talk about going the other direction and helping businesses, small businesses, start-ups, other entrepreneurial types understand the creative process through art or through poetry?

Businesses are now hanging art on their walls. They know that to create a climate of humanity, of creativity. Any environment needs creativity no matter what you do.

We’re all being creative in how we interact with people. So, the arts create a more humane, enjoyable work environment, and businesses are seeing that, hanging art on the walls, etc.

I absolutely would love that businesses hire a poet to do a staff meeting where they get the staff writing poems. That we have to shut off our personal self to show up in our office, it just never made sense to me. We are a whole person. We are better at what we do when our whole self shows up to do it. Businesses would do right to let artists come in and do in-services.

I think that you’re absolutely on the right track. I, myself, write weaponized haiku whenever I have to deliver harsh feedback.

Excellent!

It’s along that same track, you’ve touched on a few things that sound a little bit like impostor syndrome. What do you think are some of the best ways to get around that impostor syndrome?

I love that question. I’m gonna answer it by way of my having gotten an MFA at 50. That was a lot of money to go into debt for, and what I got out of it is that there’s something about declaring to yourself who you are and who you’re gonna be.

That is the woman who applied at 47 to grad school. All of the time before that fearing being an impostor, being found out, not a good enough writer, I should be writing every day. This is what writers do, they write every day. All of that changed during my three-year program.

So, at the end of it, did I become a better poet? I think so. I know so. What I became better was clearer about my identity as a writer. Period, the end.

I know who I am. I know who I’m not. I know what I’m willing to do as a writer. I know what I’m not willing to do as a writer. So, my identity’s shifted. And, now I don’t have the noise about, “Oh, I should be writing every day.” I just do what a writer does.

There’s this notion of be, do, have. If you be the writer in your identity, if down to the cells you know, you will do what a writer does. Then you will have what a writer earns, which is a book or poems or maybe a whole career. But, I’m clear about it, that impostor syndrome goes away the minute you declare on the cellular level who you are.

What are you most excited about in terms of Startup Week?

Meeting new people. I’m new up here. I know that my peeps are the start-ups, are the creative folks because they get stuff done. That’s how I say it. They get stuff done.

I love Fort Collins because it seems like the city very much is supportive of the people. It walks its talk, “Yeah, we’re an arts town,” and you sure act like one, Fort Collins.

Who’s absolutely doing the best work in Northern Colorado and Fort Collins?

I love FoCo Café. I went to a fundraiser when I first moved here. I love the Museum of Art. I am really enjoying a community of entrepreneurial women called She Leads, led by Chrysta Bairre, and they actually have some events during Startup Week.

My poetry critique group meets at Wolverine Farm Letter & Publick House, and that is a beautiful space for the literary arts. I’ve had a good time with The Lyric Theater. They had a brewmaster film with a panel of the breweries. The brewery people are wonderful with the music.

As far as our panel, our speakers have done fantastic work. We have CSU English Department professor, Leslee Becker. Ray Martinez, who was a Fort Collins cop for many years in the police department, a three-time mayor, and now a city councilman. And, we have Vauhini Vara who is newish to Fort Collins, and she’s a prominent national journalist, so we scored.

We got three folks, three walks of literary life, and the Forge is putting together a special flight of beer for our start-up people to use to inquire into their start-up story. And, Kathleen and I will be providing artwork and poetry. Not our own, by national poets. Just the creative process even of causing this thing turned out to be a panel that feels richer than our original intention.

What is the creative process like for you?

What’s true for me is that I have to find the first line. A first line has a certain rhythm and musicality and a way of saying, diction. It’ll interest me because it somehow is related to whatever existential grappling is going on. And, it’ll have metaphorical possibility. There’ll be something that shows up in my world that has struck me, upset me, whatever. It could be a national issue, or a local issue, or a personal issue. And, somehow that incident, I can work into being a metaphor for a larger existential grappling, a larger concern. And, I meander my way into it. I can’t do it if I don’t find the first line.

Tell us about your Startup Week events.

Kathleen Willard and my two Artup events are Wednesday, Feb 27th. 4:00 to 5:00 is the panel, and 5:00 to 7:00 is the mingle.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My website is www.marjhahne.com

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