Nicole Hardy is the good-girl-gone-bad of local poetry. Whether she’s jousting with Bukowski about their shared love of mannequins or rewriting the episode guide of “The Bachelor: Rome” into a “found” poem, a smirk watermarks much of Nicole’s poetry, saying devilishly, “Yes, I did just go there.”
But Hardy is hardly all sarcasm and sass—her debut collection, “Mud Flap Girl’s XX Guide to Facial Profiling,” a finalist for Main Street Rag’s 2006 chapbook contest, features the iconic trucking silhouette playing by the rules, waxing about feminism, stereotypes and playing hard to get, all in Shakespearean sonnet.
Nicole recently published her spunky second collection, “This Blonde,” on Main Street Rag, and will appear as Anne Sexton at Dead Poets Society on April 15 at Hugo House (Tickets are still available here.)
Brian McGuigan: Your latest book of poetry, “This Blonde,” was published late last year by Main Street Rag. What are you working on now?
Nicole Hardy: I'm working on new poems, slowly, surely; I just finished my first-ever sestina, which took something like eighty hours—sort of blew my mind how hard it was, but I felt embarrassingly proud upon finishing. It's about a circus sideshow performer named Lionel the Lion Faced Boy, who lived in the early 1900's. He suffered from a rare genetic disorder called hypertrichosis, which causes hair growth all over the face and body, werewolf-style. I saw a photo of Lionel (real name Stephan Bibrowski) dressed as a matador; regal posture, elegantly coiffed, and the creepy attraction I felt seemed the perfect impetus for a poem. I'm fighting with another about the time I inexplicably swam toward a shiver of reef sharks, and one about my lifelong dream of becoming a tambourine girl. I have a few other ideas brewing, and a working title, thanks to a line from the poem I was asked to write in response to Imogen Cunningham's photographs at SAM Word last September. I'm also trying my hand at what is either a memoir or a series of essays. Or maybe it's just one essay; or maybe it's nothing. We shall have to wait and see.
BM: Before “This Blonde,” you published a series of poems in sonnet form about Mud Flap Girl? What drew you to her as a muse?
NH: I've always been drawn to archetype, especially feminine archetype, and I have a thing for guilty pop culture pleasures: bad television, quarter pounders with cheese, the Lady Gagas of the world. All things magically came together once upon a Friday night: Nikki, the former hostess at the restaurant where I work hard for my money (so hard for it, honey) showed up wearing a belt adorned with Mud Flap Girls sitting all in a row. The then manager (Guess who's in charge now?) was horrified, and in a very loud and interminable diatribe, insisted the image is degrading to women. It got me thinking—why is a controversial trucker's talisman showing up in women’s fashion? Would the image still be degrading had Nikki possessed a sense of irony? Can a sex symbol be a feminist? Can a caricature become a character? If we despise a symbol, don't we have the power to redefine it? And thus, the muse appeared.
BM: And why sonnets, an ironic choice for a pop culture figure with a reputation for “breaking the rules”?
NH: I wanted Mud Flap Girl's voice to be playful, even if (especially if) she's taking on complex gender and culture issues—nothing's more boring than a predictable poetic rant. (Barbie makes me have low self-esteem; paternal structures are oppressive, blah blah blahbbity blah.) The rhythm and rhyme built into traditional sonnets are perfect for a perky, quirky, call-'em-like-I-see-'em kind of girl, and are a great vehicle to incorporate the language of marketing; she's commercial, and, in a sense, is making commercials. Fundamentally, though, while sonnets allow for tons of experimentation with music and word play, they require their language to be high and tight—every word, every syllable has to carry weight—like a cartoon *POW!* I was also drawn to the tension of high art crashing into low art; like a poetic mash-up. I wanted to see how far a sonnet could stretch, how pop culture could contribute to literary culture. And, I'll admit to a bit of nose-thumbing at puffy, stuffy poetry; as Mud Flap Girl says—"whatever happened to the don't hate me/ because I'm beautiful school of work it/ babe, whether or not you were born with it?"
BM: What “rules of poetry” do you enjoy breaking?
NH: I feel like rather than breaking rules, I tend to work within them—unfortunately, I'm still more of a square than a rebel at heart. I like to be surprising, to mix things up in terms of subject and form, but I don't know if that counts as rule breaking. I used to do a lot of salsa dancing (stay with me here); in a partner dance, it becomes really clear really fast that before you go all freestyle crazy, you have to learn the basic steps and rhythmic patterns—if not, in the best case scenario you lose your partner; in the worst, you punch him in the face. Both ways, the fancy thing you're trying to do has earned you zero points. Same with poetry, in a way; I'm not sure I'm at the point yet where I can go super crazy without losing my groove. Someday, though.
BM: Soon you’ll be portraying Anne Sexton at Dead Poets Society. How has Sexton influenced you as a poet?
NH: Lessons from Anne: there's nothing wrong with saying something shocking (unless you've said it poorly); you can mix Coca Cola with The Brothers Grimm; no one wants to read about your menstruation, Pulitzer or no; you don't have to be crazy to be a poet, but it might actually help; sad and funny are good together; feminist poets can be glamorous; prescription drugs and martinis don't mix; stop seducing your therapist; if a poem isn't working, try banging it into form; rhyme without anyone noticing the rhyme; create an artistic community; be fearless, be loud.
BM: What's the best thing about Seattle's poetry community? And the worst?
NH: The best thing is that there's something going on pretty much any night of the week; there's an audience for poetry here, always some new venue, some new poet to read or meet or listen to. The worst thing, if I'm required to say it, is the ubiquitous reading gone bad, which can manifest itself in several ways: one, the spectacularly boring reading—the one so torturous you're tempted to break the neck off a bottle and stab yourself in the eye; two, the one where you find yourself in a room full of pompous arses trying to be "poetry cool"; and last, the "I wrote this on the bus an hour ago" reading, thought to be extra brilliant when shouted with angst and punctuated by wild arm movements. That one is really the worst.
Read more about Nicole Hardy at hardygirl.com.