Whitney Hanson, HARMONY

Whitney Hanson, HARMONY

Guest host Alisha Fernandez Miranda welcomes TikTok phenomenon Whitney Hanson to discuss HARMONY, an exquisite poetry collection that chronicles the loss of a loved one and the progression of grief and healing through the lens of music. Whitney describes her transition from writing music to poetry and then shares how losing her best friend at sixteen inspired this collection. She also talks about her social media journey, her goal of making poetry accessible to younger readers, her emotional but rewarding book tour, and her future dreams, including writing a children’s book and leading a retreat in Bali!


Alisha Fernandez Miranda: Whitney, welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Whitney Hanson: Thank you. I am so excited to be here.

Alisha: I am glad to have you here with your very adorable new haircut, which we were just discussing, which I know about because I have been listening to you reading your poems on Instagram. I do not have TikTok. I know you are a TikTok phenomenon, as I read in your materials. I think I’m too old for TikTok, but that’s probably up for debate.

Whitney: I think no one’s too old for TikTok. You’ll find something for everyone on TikTok. I definitely am focused a little bit on Instagram more lately, so you’re seeing most of my content anyway.

Alisha: Exactly. I don’t need to be doing any dance moves or anything like that. I’m getting all the good stuff in my — I think this is relatable, actually. I feel like a lot of listeners of this podcast are probably on Instagram versus TikTok, but I could be wrong. Maybe Zibby needs to after.

Whitney: I think that TikTok is almost more focused on instant gratification. Instagram has become more of a place of artistic expression. I almost find myself fitting in more on Instagram now because of that. I would think that a lot of people listening are probably people who spend more time on Instagram.

Alisha: Yeah, like moms. The only TikToks I do see are when people repost them on Instagram. Then I’m like, oh, I saw this TikTok on Instagram. I’m really dating myself now in this conversation when we’ve just started.

Whitney: It’s okay.

Alisha: We are here today to talk about Harmony, your absolutely beautiful collection of poems. I found it achy, in the really best possible way, to read. I want you to take that as a compliment because it was heart-wrenching and beautiful. I think anybody who has lost anyone, but particularly who has lost someone before their time, will find so many places in your words that think, oh, my god, this is speaking from my own heart directly. It was a journey. It was a journey through your experience and a journey for the reader. It was a really beautiful, beautiful work. Congratulations on that.

Whitney: Thank you.

Alisha: Why don’t you tell everybody who hasn’t yet read it, what is Harmony about?

Whitney: Harmony is a book that I always knew that I would write. It was always in the back of my mind as something that is an important piece of my story. All of my feelings in my poetry, a lot of times, stem back from my childhood. Harmony is about experiencing grief in my childhood. I was around sixteen years old, but I kind of consider that a turning point. Harmony is all about that turning point of realizing how temporary life is. When I was sixteen years old, I lost my best friend. When you’re sixteen, arguably, your best friend is your most important person in your life. I lost my best friend when I was sixteen. I feel like that changed my perspective on life and on love a lot. I have always wanted to write this book to document that process of grief and how that was incorporated with me becoming an adult and me maturing and growing up. That’s what Harmony is. It’s a documentation of that process through a poetic lens.

Alisha: First of all, have you always written poetry? Has that been something you’ve been doing since you were even younger than you are now?

Whitney: I started with writing music, which actually kind of ties in with the title of Harmony. I wanted to incorporate music because it’s another big part of artistic expression for me. I started with writing music, which I think ties really closely to poetry. Then when I was around fifteen or sixteen years old, that’s when I really started writing poetry. I had a teacher who really encouraged me to write. She would try to get me to enter in all these poetry competitions and things like that. That was really huge for me in my journey with writing.

Alisha: I think the structure of the collection really takes you through the before, through the really raw stages of early grief, and then through your entire process. Are the poems from the earlier part of the collection things that you were writing at the time, or is that you reflecting back on how you were feeling thinking about it now?

Whitney: There are a few poems sprinkled in there that were from years ago. For the most part, the poems in the book were written five years later. One thing that I really tried to do, though, was to put myself back in that place. A few ways that I did that was by listening to music while I was writing and listening to music that brought me back to that place. I think that music has a way of teleporting us to a different time. Music was a big part of my writing process. Then also, it was challenging to really put myself back in that mindset and almost relive those feelings and those emotions and those experiences. That was something that was really hard about writing this book, but it was also something that was really important to me, that I depict it in a way that someone who is currently grieving someone or someone who has just lost someone can resonate with the book.

Alisha: Music and poetry. Do you write other things besides that? Do you need a palate cleanser, sort of? I sometimes think writing about something really intense and personal, you almost need a little writing break to go do something else. Are you secretly writing a vampire love story or a space opera or something in the background as well?

Whitney: My current dream is a children’s book for that very reason. I felt like the last several things that I’ve written have been really heavy. I’m like, I need to step away. I really would like to write a children’s book. I am just stirring some concepts around. I haven’t actually gotten started on it, but that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. I’ve also found myself having to read really light material, too, because I kind of need to bring myself out of that state.

Alisha: It’s hard to be in there all the time. It can be a lot. I love that you do that. Anything light that you’ve read recently that you’ve loved? What’s your good counterpart book to this one?

Whitney: When I was a teenager, I was really into the Percy Jackson series. Then recently, he came out with a new Percy Jackson that was the sequel. I recently just read that one because it made me feel like a kid again.

Alisha: My daughter is obsessed with those books. The TV show is now on Disney+, if you want.

Whitney: I’ve been watching that too. That’s been really good for me. Then I’ve also been reading fantasy and things that are just whimsical and light and not too heavy.

Alisha: I love it. I told you I was going through your Instagram. In your profile, you say, “Poetry isn’t a dead language.” People your age, do they think of poetry as a dead language? Do you think there’s a renaissance of poetry? Where does that come from, that feeling that you need to state that, actually, poetry is not a dead language?

Whitney: I think when most people think of poetry, they think of something that’s super intellectual or hard to comprehend or old. When you think of a poetry book, I think often, you think of an old poetry book that you were forced to read in English class and dissect and figure out what it meant. For me, I want to bring poetry to a young audience and remind people that poetry, just like any other form of art, can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. That’s my goal with that statement, is just to remind people that poetry is important.

Alisha: Clearly, it’s working because you have an extraordinary number of followers on multiple platforms. I’m guessing that a lot of people first access your writing through social media and through you reading your poems online. I had not really thought about how that must be helping a totally new generation access poetry in a different way than I did, which is exactly how you described. Give me an Emily Dickinson in school, and we have to dissect every line. Do you think of yourself as a performance artist as well as a poet?

Whitney: Yeah, I definitely would say so. I haven’t actually thought about it that way. I think that there is a whole nother aspect of the expression in the performance of the poetry and also a whole nother aspect of healing in being able to speak the poetry myself. I started reading my poetry for TikTok and Instagram by reading it in my car just to my cell phone. That was my therapy session, almost, for the day. I’d drive to an empty parking lot. I would sit there, and I would read poetry out loud. I think that that is such a powerful thing to be able to speak those things out loud, not just write them down. It’s been something that’s super important for me, adding that aspect of performance to my writing.

Alisha: I think it really does bring it in a different way. Normally if I’m doing one of these podcasts, I will read a little bit that I loved. I’m kind of nervous about doing that because you read your own work so beautifully. I have a little snippet. Is that okay? Maybe I should repeat it back to me.

Whitney: Yeah, that’s okay.

Alisha: I pulled out so many different things. I just wanted to read this one, which was so beautiful.

Whitney: I love hearing other people read my poetry. I’m excited for you to read it. I love it because in a way, it’s them making it their own and their interpretation of it. I’m excited for you to read it. I’m happy that you’re reading it.

Alisha: I’m glad that you said that before I read it, actually. That’s good because then if I — it’s hard to mess up beautiful words like these. This is the part I pulled out of many, many ones that I was going to read. You say, “Grief will teach you one of two lessons: how to run from love or how to run toward it. You choose which lesson you learn,” which I just thought was extremely powerful. As a mom — I know a lot of the listeners of this podcast are moms. When you go through a grief event in your family, there is your own grief, but then you’re thinking about how to support your children in a different way. I know this is a tough question for anybody, but particularly, someone young. Are there ways in which you were or wish you would’ve been supported as a young person going through this at sixteen years old that you think moms and dads and other parents out there should hear?

Whitney: That is partially my goal with this book, is to be able to give parents or someone who knows someone who’s grieving a tool to be able to help someone, so either by reading this book and maybe finding some understanding so that you can connect with that person or by gifting this book to someone who is going through it. I think just the gift of understanding is super important. For me, there was just nobody in my family who had been through the kind of loss that I was experiencing. I think they didn’t necessarily know how to help. I think one important thing that family members or people who are close to someone who is grieving can do is to learn about it and to ask questions about it because I think that most of the time when someone is grieving, they want to talk about it. They want to talk about that person that they lost. Giving them that space to do that is something that’s extremely important. Just the effort to try to understand is important.

Alisha: I think that’s so true. I think the natural response is almost to want to avoid it or to think, probably, this person who’s grieving has been thinking about it nonstop. They want to think something different, so I’m not going to bring it up. That has certainly been my experience as well. I think people do really want to talk about the loved one that they lost. That’s a really important part of the process, and not just the grieving process, but the ongoing process of living your life without the person that you had there. I think that’s an amazing thing to say. You’ve been doing a book tour. You’re just back fairly recently from your book tour. Is that right?

Whitney: Yeah. Beginning of December was my last event.

Alisha: I watched an introduction you did about yourself. You sort of said something like — you didn’t actually say you hate people, but I get the impression that maybe in these big rooms is not exactly where you always want to be. How was book tour for you? How was actually getting in front of all these people and sharing your words and hearing what they had to say about them?

Whitney: It was incredible and also an emotional roller coaster. I told this story a lot on my tour. When I had planned to go on tour, I had planned it before I had even written Harmony. It was before I even knew what the book was going to be about. I had had this dream of going on tour because I really do love to actually connect with people. I think that social media allows some form of connection, but it’s very different when you can actually meet people face to face and see their facial expressions and see how your art is resonating with them. I had been wanting to do a tour for a while. I was very nervous, but I do actually like people.

Alisha: You were like, I love people, and also, I hate people. I was like, I think we all kind of feel that way a little bit.

Whitney: I tend to be more introverted, but I do love people. I planned this tour before I really knew what the book was going to be about. I’d kind of already committed to, the next book that I write, I’m going to tour for that book. I wrote Harmony. Then I set the plan in motion to go on tour. Then I had this moment right before I went on tour where I was like, what have I done? What am I doing? It was such a heavy book. Then I signed myself up to go talk about, basically, my most traumatizing childhood experience in front of a live audience. I really had a moment of, what did I sign myself up for? It turned out being incredibly validating because I had so many people come up to me that were like, this is exactly what I needed to hear. I resonate with this part of your story so much. I resonate with this part of your story so much. It was huge for me. I, truthfully, cried after almost every event because of just how emotional it was to meet people and hear people’s stories. It was very moving and very rewarding, but it was also emotionally exhausting a little bit.

Alisha: Wow, that sounds extraordinary. Tell me what’s up next for you. I know you have this retreat in Bali. I’m trying to figure out if I can make my way over there. Tell me what’s ahead for you in 2024.

Whitney: I would love it if you joined us in Bali, first of all. I’m doing at least two retreats. One thing that I’ve been really focused on is community and connecting with people and collaborating with artists. I have been working with a musician on possibly releasing some poetry collaboration with music. I am working on doing my retreats, which is another way to connect with people and hopefully inspire people to get into writing. Right now, I’m really focused on community and connecting with people and figuring out how I can collaborate with people in my art.

Alisha: I love it. I am planning a retreat in Scotland for next year as well. We could do a retreat swap. You can come to Scotland. I’ll come to Bali with you. This sounds like a wonderful plan for me. I think I might get the better end of the deal.

Whitney: That sounds amazing.

Alisha: It sounds awesome. Whitney, it has been so nice to chat with you. We always like to finish up here with some advice you have for writers. What would you say to the aspiring writers out there that are listening?

Whitney: The number-one thing that I’ve learned in the past year is the importance of community. Especially as a creative or someone who creates from their bedroom and doesn’t get out in the world much, especially in this social media age, the importance of community and finding people who support you in your writing and who you can even work with and expand your horizons, I think that that’s something that’s been hugely important for me in this past year. I think that that is something that is hugely important for any kind of artist, any kind of creative.

Alisha: I think that is so beautiful. It can feel a little bit lonely sometimes creating on your own in your room. I think that’s a beautiful message. Whitney, thank you so much for coming on. Thank you for writing this beautiful poetry collection. Harmony is out. Everybody can pick up a copy. Check out Whitney’s wide social media presence on Instagram, TikTok. I think you should check out her Bali retreat because it looks amazing. Thank you for coming on today.

Whitney: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been so fun talking to you.

Whitney Hanson, HARMONY

HARMONY by Whitney Hanson

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