When Deborah Hauser ’99, ’05 set out to finish her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Stony Brook University while working full time at an insurance company, she never imagined her poetry would earn her the distinguished title of Suffolk County Poet Laureate.
Hauser has been writing poetry since junior high and has continued to do so throughout her career. After graduation, she stayed connected to Stony Brook by teaching writing classes at the university. She is the secretary of the Suffolk County Chapter of the National Organization for Women, a board member of the Long Island Poetry & Literature Repository and an editor at Poetrybay, an online poetry magazine. As Poet Laureate, she is excited to continue hosting poetry readings in Babylon Village and to support the poetry community in any way she can.
What does this title mean to you? What will you be doing in this role?
The title is an official recognition of my work within the community. There isn’t exactly a job description, and I am free to shape the role however I want. I plan to attend as many poetry readings as possible in Suffolk County. I would like to encourage and support local poetry communities in towns and villages across the county.
Some laureates create special projects, which is something I’m thinking about. And I’d also like to bring more young people into the community by reaching out to colleges and working with the teen laureate. I will be on a panel that chooses the next teen poet laureate in 2024 and the next laureate, when my term ends in 2025.
Have you connected with previous poet laureates from Suffolk County?
Because the poetry world is such a close-knit community, I’ve connected with almost all of them at some point over the years. I’ve gone to readings and lectures with some of them, including George Wallace. They are all very excited for me to be in this role and have offered support if needed.
When did you start writing? Was there ever a point when you took a step back from poetry?
I’ve been writing poetry for most of my life. I remember writing some poems in junior high and high school. When I started college, I immediately enrolled in a creative writing class. However, because I was working full time and taking classes part time to finish up my bachelor’s and then my master’s, I didn’t have the time to write poetry.
To stay connected to writing after graduation, I taught as an adjunct professor at Suffolk Community College and Stony Brook University for four semesters. I worked as an insurance agent during the day and then taught writing classes at night. It was very labor-intensive.
After I finished teaching, I needed to get back into writing — something that was intellectually fulfilling. I attended a poetry reading by Wallace and signed up for a mailing list for other events in the poetry community. After attending a workshop led by Wallace at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, I decided to take poetry seriously once more.
When did you first publish a piece?
There were a couple of anthologies in my teens and early 20s. And then at the colleges, first at Suffolk County Community College in their journal and at Stony Brook in one of the newspapers. The most important piece I published at Stony Brook was in one of the women’s studies department’s literary journals.
What do you love most about Stony Brook?
I got an amazing education — both as an undergraduate and graduate student — and I loved being part of the writing community on campus. I am still in touch with some of the friends I made in graduate school.
Two classes I took — one on Emily Dickinson and one on Wallace Stevens — have stuck with me. In those classes, I learned to read poetry closely, interpret it, and analyze it.
When did you find time to write your chapbook, Ennui: From the Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders? What inspired you to write it?
After I stopped teaching and started writing again for myself, I took a few workshops at night. One of my assignments was to write a poem that defined a word. I decided to write about the word ‘ennui.’ That word [which means a feeling of dissatisfaction from a lack of interest] stuck in my head because I had recently read The Awakening by Kate Chopin. And since I love French things, I decided to write a definition of that word. I did a very long draft and started revising and organizing it. And I had the idea to make it look like a medical manual, and that’s where the whole book came from — that one assignment.
What is your writing process like?
It works in all different ways. Sometimes something will pop into my head, and I’ll jot it down. More often, as people say, it’s like any other muscle, and you have to exercise it regularly. So I will do a free-write for 5 or 10 minutes to see if that sparks something. There are times when other poems will even inspire me.
I run a workshop where I choose a poem, and we do a close reading of it, meaning each person in the class will read a line and say something in response. At the end, there is an option to write something about that poem that has inspired them. This is a great way to see other poetry techniques and try them out on our own.
You lead a sort of double life, working in insurance during the day and writing at night. What is that like? Does your poetry side ever influence your insurance side?
Yes. I work at Hartford Insurance, mostly handling auto and general liability insurance. It’s actually the same company where poet Wallace Stevens worked. I definitely feel the duality of working in insurance and then writing poetry either after work or on the weekends. I kept them separate, but I have started to mention the readings I host. And, of course, I bragged a little when I was selected as laureate.
How did you get involved in poetry readings and open mic nights in Babylon Village? What is it like to read your work in front of others?
The readings are supported by the Babylon Village Arts Council. Because of my involvement with the council, I eventually took over hosting the events in 2020. They used to be held in the library many years ago but are now held monthly at Jack Jack’s Coffee House.
Reading in front of an audience is like a performance. It’s funny; I can practice reading my poems a million times, but they come out differently once I’m up there. There is something about the room’s energy and being in front of people that you can’t rehearse.
What advice would you give someone attending an open mic night for the first time?
I love people who are there to do a reading for the first time! I tell them we’re a warm and welcoming community if they are nervous. I ask them to go up there and do their thing, and everyone will love them! Also, I tell them they don’t have to tell people it’s their first time. And usually, people will relax and have a good time.
You mentioned you want to connect with more young writers. Is that what you’re hoping for in the future of writing and poetry?
I would love to connect with more young and diverse writers. I’m always trying to grow our audience. Sometimes, poets travel in small groups, and I would love to mix it up and get everyone out of their comfort zones. I want to get people involved from different areas of Long Island, and I am working closely with the Nassau County poet laureate on events to get more people connected.
What advice would you give students aspiring to write poetry?
Read a ton of poetry and write a lot. It’s important to remember that you might not always get a poem when you write, but if you exercise that writing muscle, something great will eventually come out of it.
Find your community. Attend poetry readings, even if you’re not ready to get up and read your own work. Connect with other poets and writers to get inspiration to create amazing pieces of work. Let your community support you.
And be persistent. If you truly believe your writing is great, don’t give up. I wrote a poem nine years ago, and I sent the poem out to get published 35 times over nine years. I never gave up. And in 2021, it finally got accepted into the Women’s Review of Books.