Past contributor Erin Adair-Hodges has a new book out from Pitt Poetry Series. Let's All Die Happy was the winner of the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett prize. Two of the poems from the new book, "I Would Have Listened to Rush" and "Ode to my Dishwasher," first appeared in issue 35.2 of The Pinch.
We spoke with Erin about what she's been up to lately, her inspiration for the book, and her writerly impulses.
What have you been up to since publishing with The Pinch?
First, The Pinch was among the first places to publish my poems and the first to ever solicit me for work, so I will always be grateful for that.
Since the spring of 2015, I’ve been fortunate enough to publish a lot of work and in 2016, my first book Let’s All Die Happy won the Agnes Lynch Starrett prize from the Pitt Poetry Series—it was just published at the end of October. I’ve also moved to Ohio to take a position as a visiting professor of creative writing at the University of Toledo. So in other words, a lot.
Can you tell us about your book Let’s All Die Happy and the inspiration behind it?
The book wasn’t something I envisioned before its creation. I respect and even envy “project” books, but I consider mine a collection of poems that weave together an examination of disappointment and yearning. It takes what are presented to women as life-defining events (motherhood, marriage, daughterness, sex) and asks about what happens when we do what we’ve been told will fulfill us and yet feel hollowed a bit by this. Yes, motherhood is awe-inspiring, but postpartum depression is annihilating. Marriage is a great source of support, but it can also be stultifying. I’m interested in flipping over the thing we think we know to complicate our understanding of these roles and relationships.
How did it feel to win last year’s Agnes Lynch Starrett prize, and what did it mean to you?
I was told the news on an early Monday morning, and almost immediately I had to go teach a class of freshman comp. I think this sums up a lot about my experience—it’s tremendously affirming, but then I just have to keep getting work done.
That’s not meant to sound ungrateful; I am, on an almost daily basis, fairly floored by my good fortune to have won this prize. The significance of it will seep in and surprise me. I’d accepted a while ago that my life wasn’t going to look the way I thought it would and that I’d have to find happiness in what I had the opportunities for instead of what I really wanted. At some point, I decided that wasn’t enough. I wanted a life as a poet and I made it. Winning this prize has been affirming in a way that’s hard to overstate.
The business of poetry (separate from the art of poetry) celebrates youth in a way that can make it seem if you didn’t hit it when you were young, there’s no space for you. I’m concerned with supporting those voices, mostly of women, who for varied reasons had to sublimate their artistry and ambitions. I hope to be able to give support and community to those who may not see a way in for themselves.
Where does your general impulse to write come from? And what does a typical day of writing look like for you?
My impulse comes largely from reading. Those days I can write, I begin by reading at least a few poems to become inspired—images, line breaks, surprising language—any and all of it can trigger a desire to get onto the page and do it myself.
I don’t have a typical writing day. I teach a heavy load and have many other responsibilities, so I don’t view writing as a daily practice, otherwise I’d be constantly anxious because of my failure to write during busy times. Instead, I try to listen to my impulses. The past few weeks, my commitment to writing poems as part of the Plath Poetry Project has led to a kind of epic tear, but before that it had been nearly three weeks before I could write. I personally can’t follow the advice that you should write every day, but I also don’t wait for inspiration to strike. If I have time, I sit down and try; if I don’t, I go through the world with a lens open to experience that will find its way to my work.
What is the last a) TV show you watched, b) book you read, c) drink you drank, and d) song you listened to.
a. Show: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
b. Book: Ordinary Misfortunes by Emily Jungmin Yoon
c. Drink: Pinot Grigio
d. “Blue Magic” by Son Little