ERICA HOFFMEISTER: IN CONVERSATION
We are honored to have such a talented poet in our midst. Join us for a look behind 2018 Kingdoms in the Wild Poetry Prize Winner Erica Hoffmeister’s writing process, what inspires her and much more. Don’t forget to check our her poetry chapbook Roots Grew Wild.
WHAT INSPIRED ONE OF YOUR POEMS?
Some of my poems are from the heart, drawn from raw experience and emotion, while others are 100% fictionalized, and I’m writing from the perspective of an imagined narrator. Regardless, there is usually some sort of personal inspiration that triggers a poem, something in the well of my life that I’ll draw from as a genesis point. A good example of something in between is the poem “The First.” I wrote it as an emotional response to finding out about my younger sister’s pregnancy. Though that really happened, and I really did feel the way the narrator does in the poem, I didn’t write it as myself – I wrote it into the overarching narrative that became Roots Grew Wild, in a totally different world with different people, living totally different, yet similar experiences.
WHAT IS AN OBSCURE THING YOU FIND INTERESTING ABOUT THE WORLD?
So, someone—a planetary geologist—had their ashes sent to the moon after he died. So, there’s technically a graveyard up there. Which is possibly the most unique after-death “burial” I’ve ever heard of. I think it’s interesting how much we think about what happens to our bodies after death—what we do to them, how we dispose of them, respecting the dead with these certain cultural idiosyncrasies—is it for us, or for the people we leave behind after we die? I don’t know if its obscure, but it has always interested me how different cultures have their own “normal” to cope with the human body left behind after death. It makes you wonder why we obsess about what we want to happen to our bodies at that point—if it’s all self-reflective, projection, or fear of death itself. Essentially, I think it’s superstition—but, so is basically everything when it comes to human rituals; the need for some sort of control, even after we’re gone.
What odd, funny or interesting fact can you share about your writing habits or process?
I am so boring, I feel like. I write for an hour or two every morning while my daughter is just waking up and doing her own morning routine. I’m a busy, working mom so that’s all the time I get for writing, and I carve it out with a dull knife just to get that much – so I have to find other ways to “write,” such as mulling over ideas and words while I go on runs or drive to work, jotting down ideas in my Notes app on my phone or scribbling things down on scraps of paper as I teach or bartend, or literally at any other given time. Sometimes nothing at all comes of any of these thoughts and notes – nothing material, anyway. But, I like to encourage the idea that a writer never stops writing. Alicia Mountain wrote this piece, “Concerning Craft: To the Writer Who is Not Writing, where she says:
“Writer, you are living a life, even if it is humble or meager in ways. Writing comes out of this life lived, the sensory details, the doubt, the microwaved dinner, the weight of your jacket, the joy, the car payment, the lonely shower, the movement of your body. Everything you do away from your notebook or keyboard is writing. Even if it fills months or years, you can make use of it—this can all end up on the page. You know this.”
This hit me hard, because I internalize writer’s guilt a lot—that feeling of lack of productivity, that without tangible proof on a daily basis, I do not deserve the title of “writer.” But a writer’s life is constantly building and writing; our writing “process” includes more than just the words we end up with, it is every moment before those words even hit the page.
How important is language and/or word choice to your writing?
I mean language is writing is language is word choice is writing, right? You can’t really disconnect any of it – especially in poetry, when you can hang on writing one word for an entire day or more. It has to be the right word; there has to be no other possible word within known language, real or imagined, that is destined to fit in that exact place, in that specific line, in that particular poem. Sometimes the language emerges from the unknown place—that center of the writing mind, spills right out—and sometimes it takes hours reading, searching, digging for what is meant to be… Long answer long, yes! Without a deep obsession with language and words and how they create whole worlds out of simple shapes we call letters… well, I wouldn’t be here.
Are there any themes or reoccurring threads that you try to explore in your writing?
Generally, if I’m writing and something particularly thematic keeps popping up in different stories and poems, that’s when I think: “OK, I’ve got a collection forming here,” and then I might try to explore those things at a deeper, more intentional level – because obviously, my writing mind is considering it important at that time. From there, a sort of narrative or theme may blossom from the inside out – but we tend to work together as a team, the creator and created. I don’t usually go into my writing time thinking: “Today, I’m going to write a poem about sisterhood,” or whatever, not to say that never happens, either, though.
Is there something you find particularly difficult about the writing process?
Every poem I write is, at its center, a story. That’s what I find so beautiful about poetry – it is not so much about the poem itself, but the world that the poem exists in. This is where I’m entering when I write a poem, and it takes time to fully develop that world in order to complete a poem that is authentic and makes sense to me. I can’t just spit out conceptual imagery or emotion – or if I am writing from my gut, stream of consciousness style, I still go back to what I wrote and figure out “ok, where did this come from? What reality do these concept exist in? What is the story here?” I am obsessed with the underlying narratives of everything and everyone around me – and poetry is that beautiful, momentary glimpse into things unrevealed or unsaid. This obsession is time consuming and at times, mentally exhausting —especially when writing a simple, short poem that may only actually be a few lines.
What other art form [if any] influences or informs your writing? e.g. film, music, painting / visual art…
Everything. Is that understated enough? Ha. I mean, I’ve written a deep vat of love poems heavily influenced by me reading War and Peace at the time, and I’ve written about how it feels to listen to Led Zeppelin in the summertime with all the car windows down after listening to “Houses of the Holy” at a really watershed moment in my life, and I’ve written deeply about my love and gratitude for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am a conglomerate of influences, mentored by the poetry within literally every form of art.
What is your most recent work and where can readers find it?
Of course, KITW—my first chapbook Roots Grew Wild is just published! I also have a cross-genre piece that is, in rare form, not fictionalized at all, but rather personal, recently published in Mom Egg Review’s quarterly VOX, titled “Aversion.” Also, my first full length hybrid collection, Lived in Bars is forthcoming from Stubborn Mule Press TBA in 2019, and some of the flash-prose that can be read in the meantime from that book include: “The Mission Inn,” published in Fiction Southeast, and “Pops,” and “The Bum Steer,” published in Abstract Magazine in their online journals throughout this year as well. All my previously published work, and work to come, can be found on www.ericarhoffmeister.com.
Erica Hoffmeister grew up in Southern California and holds an MFA from Chapman University. She has had various works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction published in several online and print journals and magazines. She has been a runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction, and has twice been nominated for Best of the Net. “Roots Grew Wild” is her first chapbook from Kingdoms in the Wild. For now, she lives in Denver with her husband and two daughters, where she balances writing, teaching and mama-ing, and perpetually misses home—wherever that feels at the time.
CREDITS: in this issue
Author: Erica Hoffmeister
Editor: L. Naisula & Lydia S.
Graphic Design: Shompole, N.L.
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