Poet Of The Week

Erika Hodges

     January 1–7, 2018

Erika Hodges is a poet, photographer and performer living in Brooklyn. She recently graduated from Naropa University with her BA in creative writing. She worked as an assistant to the creative director at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program, and continues this work of poet’s assistant in New York. She is a founding member of the We Love Us collective, for which she will be holding workshops and readings in the coming months. This past fall, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in J. Scott Brownlee’s MFA Application Bootcamp.

The headspace of a metronome

Got called in by Grand Master Locution. They all carry a dog whistle in their left pocket or around their neck if they wake up ready for dedication. Pink shirts mean executive. Executives are also the ones that look you in the eye during execution if it were to come to that.

Grand Master Secret Valves wear leakage yellow. Their shadows carry brooms. The wide bristled ones. They don’t have shirts. In the corners are decommissioned battleships. You cannot board them but you can see pictures of when they were boarded.

I have never been to the top floor where I have heard there are all sorts of medical offices for the ones that get shirts. A dentist’s office made entirely of old phone books. No laughing gas because if you can remember it then it didn’t really happen.

Mess is at 6:30. If you don’t have enough time to eat, you can stand in line for the expirational foie gras gullet juicing stations but it might be faster to order ravioli. Pushing your spine back to compressed intention is very popular.

On the third floor, windows are pinned to your sleeve. The ninth hall is the best place to kneel so that the know cortexes can start the process of sorting hope into mail bins to be sent out for inspection. There are rooms that are not pictured here. There are maps only in a warehouse with fireproof walls. A cackling plumbing.

Transport trucks only move at night. Not pictured is the wailing spleen that makes a mess between the fifth and sixth floors. It is wise to keep the soft bits hingeing the back of your jaw protected. It is in good taste. It is safer.


Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem moves through my version of a lived hell. Part of what I was trying to communicate was the spinning feeling of being illegible, misunderstood no matter how specific you are. It was the first poem I wrote for this manuscript and it induced a sort of vertigo for a couple of days afterward. I really had to surrender to the mind of the poem in order to get it the way I wanted. This manuscript is quite possessive in that way.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on the manuscript that this poem comes from, entitled There Are Tunnels. I am also working on a series of revolutionary love poems that speak to the intersection of intimacy and politics, entitled Little Utopias.

What’s a good day for you?

Sun on my face, uncontrolled laughter, checking at least three things off my list, a beautiful dress, long conversation, defying the police, a surprising turn of events, fierce solidarity, gentle touches, a good line, the perfect word for how you are feeling, great coffee, dinner made together, dishes done together, soft blankets, knowing glances, autonomy, a life in common and maybe a little dancing.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

Poems. I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at Naropa University and I became anxious. “What next?” In a series of significant coincidences, I quickly realized Brooklyn was the place that “next” happens. It was kind of perfect actually, in the way things rarely are.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I moved to Ditmas Park in August, my first Brooklyn neighborhood. I love how friendly and sincere it feels. Most people I’ve met here are happy to know me as I am and that feels really good, which is different from other places I’ve lived. It is a relief not to feel like I have to adjust in order to belong, that there is a place that feels inclusive and suited to my disposition. I know it is changing but I have not been here long enough to see it firsthand. The community feels pretty tight-knit, hopefully that withstands whatever comes.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

When the guy at the bagel shop by my house started recognizing me and asking about my writing, sometimes throwing in an extra bagel, I thought, “Oh, maybe I really do live here now. I have a bagel guy.”

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I think about this question a lot. A poetry community means a way of living, of surviving. I have found it here, yes. I found a profound poetry community at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program, where I sometimes work, and was able to carry that ethos to my new home and expanding circle of poets and artists I hold dear. Poems, to me, are a place where you take this tool, language, that is common to almost all of us, and use it to say the unsayable, which can be a very vulnerable act. I feel so lucky to have found others to share that vulnerability with, and to grow in our craft and person through it, together.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Whitman’s “Song of Myself” had a big impact on my developing love for poetry in my teenage years. Basquiat is another Brooklyn poet that I often think of. His journals are incredible. My roommate, No Land, has also been a wonderful inspiration to me. She is a talented poet and quickly became a deep friend.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

Anne Waldman has been something of a poetry mother to me. Her work as a performance artist, poet, activist, feminist and poetry director has made it possible for me to do the work I want to do. Plus, she makes sure I eat full meals and gives solid advice. Also Jeff Pethybridge, who was my professor at Naropa, made it possible for me to develop a vocabulary for my work. He showed me the ways in which I could know my work and myself as a result. I carry with me a boundless gratitude for their presence and friendship in my life.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I just finished My Private Property by Mary Ruefle. The ways she addresses class and age and our sometimes cruel world with such skilled simplicity and compassion is very impressive to me. It has inspired me to think in a different way about the lyric essay.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

I have read most of The Cantos but not all of them. I also never finished To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I spent too many years being “too cool” for the classics and I’m a little ashamed.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I have multiple books that I read at different moments in my day; one for morning coffee, one for the train, one for bedtime, one for reading aloud, etc. Usually I have one anthology, one critical text, one book of prose and a couple books of poetry in the mix. I let the books appear as they want to. Always the physical text. I’m the horrible person that will print out PDFs. Reading on computer screens really bums me out. I take tons of notes, in the book for critical texts and in my own notebook for creative texts. I have lots of rules.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I feel like the sestina would be a good form for me. I wrote one once and it wasn’t great but I think if I worked at it, I could get a handle on it. Plus, it’s a beautiful name, Sestina, for a pet or a child or a bike or something.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I like buildings with high ceilings. The elements tend to distract me outside but I can also get a little claustrophobic. The high ceilings give my thoughts space to move and play.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Sisters in Clinton Hill serves coffee and pastries in the morning and is usually pretty empty. The light is killer and the ceilings are a very desirable height. My tailor’s shop in Bushwick is a sensory delight. He is such an expert at his craft, which is a joy to watch, and there are so many incredible fabrics. I love fabric, the folds, the textures, the weight, everything. There are also a couple streets in my neighborhood with a real dedication to holiday decorations which makes my solitary walks more alive.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate with chapped lips,
And what I am to you is enough now,
For every spark was on me as good as once with you.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

I was asked the other day to talk about my father
and I didn’t want to, I just wanted to go home
and not have so many questions to dodge

I remember when I was in Brooklyn
as a guest then, and there was music
in front of that mural of Biggie

I didn’t want to take pictures, it was
too perfect so I took to my pen
and tried to act like it wasn’t the same thing

And I felt bad, until I remembered
how I feel about sin, that it is nothing,
except to rob you of flexibility,
of your deep wells of dew

I called Jack, after the event,
he is always so far away these days,
he said, “Oh yeah, why are you thinking like that?
I love you.”

Why Brooklyn?

Because it has never been so easy to fall in love, with myself, with others, with this place that is becoming home. Because I don’t feel obligated to smile unless I want to. Because the unexpected and unusual are everywhere (I saw music in a basement venue that involved a rainbow cloud lamp and Icelandic rocks that made me cry). Because there is room to be anything, and then something different in five minutes, and that is not the case with all places.