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Art Maker: Rebecca Hart Olander, poet and editor

  • Poet Rebecca Hart Olander, editor of Perugia Press, displays a copy of Perugia’s newest collection, "Girldom" by Megan Peak, at her Florence home. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Poet and editor Rebecca Hart Olander is seen here in her Florence home. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Poet Rebecca Hart Olander, seen here in her Florence home, displays copies of poetry collections published by Perugia Press, for which she serves as editor and director. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • A sampling of poetry published by Florence-based Perugia Press, from its founding to the current year, is shown here at the home of Perugia editor Rebecca Hart Olander. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Poet Rebecca Hart Olander, editor of Perugia Press, displays Perugia’s two most recent poetry collectiong: "Starshine Road" by L. I. Henley, left, and "Girldom" by Megan Peak. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY


Friday, September 07, 2018

Rebecca Hart Olander puts a high value on collaboration, whether she’s sharing her poetry with two local writing groups, working with students or helping bring the work of new women poets to light. Olander, of Florence, is the editor/director of Perugia Press, which publishes first and second books of poetry by women (including “Girldom,” featured on page 6).

After studying at Smith and Hampshire colleges, Olander earned an MA in poetry at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Today she teaches writing at Westfield State University and, when time allows, works on her own poetry, which has been published in a number of journals and won the Women’s National Book Association Poetry Award in 2013. “I have several manuscripts, and my dream is to have a book of my own someday,” she says.

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Rebecca Olander: I’m blessed that my work life resonates with my writing life, and I gather inspiration from my students and from the women who send their manuscripts to Perugia Press. My work with students is rooted in social justice concerns, and my work with the press brings the voices of emerging women poets to light through publication. 

That doesn’t leave abundant time for my own writing. Still, I work hard — attending writing groups, sending work out for publication, and doing public readings. 

HL: What do you draw inspiration from?

RO: I love collaborating, whether that means writing ekphrastic poems (written in response to a work of art), writing to music, writing in nature, or creating projects with a friend. There is something respectful, fun, and illuminating about considering one’s work in tandem with another piece, person, or place. 

HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

RO: Feedback is essential. I share my work with two local writing groups, and I’m in an online poetry exchange. Writing in community motivates me and keeps me nimble in my craft. It helps identify the weak, unformed, overdone bits, and stripping those out helps a poem to find completion. 

HL: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be?

RO: Maybe a lighthouse keeper. I love the ocean, storms, narrow stairs, and refracted light. Also, solitude (though not enough to give up good company, which I love more).

But artists are never only artists. I am already other things in addition to being a poet — a teacher, editor, mother, sister, daughter, wife, friend. All our parts enrich each other, providing things from which to make our art. 

HL: Dream dinner party: Who would you invite? 

RO: I’d invite the Perugia poets, board, and friends of the press. This group includes some of my favorite people in the world, and they share a common love for poetry. It’s a big group — we’ve published 22 books over the years — so we’d have to have a full-on party!

HL: What do you do when you’re stuck?

RO: As a young writer, I thought I had writer’s block when ideas didn’t hit me over the head; I waited to be accosted by the muse. Now I use prompts to conjure her — they bring unexpected energy, a side door through which to access poems. Prompts make me get out of my own way. Also, reading always provides a key.

— Steve Pfarrer

Rebecca Olander’s website is rebeccahartolander.com. The website for Perugia Press is perugiapress.com.