Poet Elizabeth Hoover on big projects, collaboration, and hard work

Hoover in a performance she created with her sister, artist Dorothy Hoover.

Hoover in a performance she created with her sister, artist Dorothy Hoover.

When I moved from Los Angeles to Indiana, Elizabeth Hoover is one of the first people I met. As she helped me adjust to life in the little town, pointing out the good vs. sketchy grocery stores, and where the most beautiful parks were located, I got to know how hardworking and well-read Elizabeth is. She is the kind of friend where your conversation easily spans from summer reading lists and bike maintenance to museum recommendations or the latest discovery on mars. If she cooks dinner for you, she will use the finest local foods using a recipe she got from an obscure magazine, and when she writes poetry, she will draft and draft and draft until she unearths magic.

I am excited to share her interview with you today. In it she shares both about her writing process, her current projects, and why she sought out a salaried job when she was working as a successful freelance writer. For this interview, I decided to start with the job-related questions and then move on to juicy writerly details. Enjoy!

What do you do to pay the bills?

I am the Assistant Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University. I had been a freelance writer for some time and I would say a successful-ish one, but I was tired of always worrying about money and of re-applying for my job every day–which is what freelancing felt like. I find I am very productive even though I don’t have as much free time because the free time I do have I am not stressing out about money. JMU in general and my department in specific are very supportive so I can take time off to write. I get 20 days of vacation! Some days I write grants all day, but some days I get to learn about poets and read poetry and that’s good.
When you applied for the JMU job were also looking for teaching? Do you see any advantages to working on a campus?

 I did also apply for teaching jobs. I never heard back from any of the places I applied to teach at. I don’t know if I will pursue professorships in the future. Since I just got here, I am not really thinking about what’s next! Being part of the academic community is helpful mostly because it gives me access to a lot of resources through the library. I  have unlimited access to books and other scholarly material.

Now, tell us a little bit about what you write, how you write, and sources of inspiration you seek out regularly?

When not working with index cards I use huge notebooks that sometimes get wet

I write poetry and enjoy working on big projects like series that have a conceptual or research element. For example, I am working on a series of prose poems in the form of letters about sexual assault, how women are silenced in the academy, and ways that art can offer opportunities for healing. They rely on personal narrative but also art history and aesthetic theory. I’ve also been writing about women in pop culture, which is new for me because usually I don’t like pop culture poems. But I’ve been enjoying applying the visual analysis skills I gained as an art critic to pop culture. I am also working on a series of poems about an archive with an infinite collection of objects, including living creatures and artifacts from imaginary historical incidents. These poems enact my own obsessions with information, research, and historic material. I like to write in the mornings before work.

I live only 10 minutes away from my office so I can get up at 6:45 and get at least an hour and a half in before I have to hop on my bike. What I usually do is read for a little bit and then work on a low-stakes poetry exercise. I recently moved from Pittsburgh to Harrisonburg and my writing partner from Pittsburgh and I exchange poetry exercises every two weeks. I hate poetry exercises because they force me to go off my plan and try something I wouldn’t normally do. So I actively seek them out. After the exercises, I’ll get to work on the project poems. I also  keep little stacks on index cards everywhere–next to my bed, on my desk at work, in my pannier bag, my purse, my car–so I can jot down things as they occur to me. I don’t know what I am going to do with those cards yet. I got the idea from reading Roland Barthes’ “Mourning Diary.”

My sources of inspiration have always been pretty heterogeneous. Anne Carson is a poet I return to a lot because she also combines other discourses (history, philosophy) into her poems and her poems can straddle the line between poetry and essays. Another book that has been really important to me is The Rape Poems by Frances Driscoll. I think it’s her only book, but it’s a knock out. I read pretty much constantly because I’m also a poetry critic for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. I read about five books of poems a week. So recent books I’ve reviewed that I found inspirational/interesting/challenging: Sarah Fox’s First Flag, Lightsey Darst Dance, Heid Erdrich’s Cell Traffic, and Sun Yung Shin’s Rough, and Savage. My non-work-related book right now is Mary Jo Bang’s translation of the Inferno, but I’m not sure I like it.

Anabel Chong perhaps killing her porn persona

“Anabel Chong perhaps killing her porn persona”

I’ve been pretty obsessed with Feminist Frequency recently as well as with horror movies, copshows, and women in pop culture like Coco Austin and Annabel Chong. (So, yes, I have written poems while watching gangbangs. It’s really awful, but I feel like it’s important for me right now to lean into the things I find disturbing and terrible and sad about the way women are treated.

Hamilton collaborates with slugs

“Anne Hamilton sometimes collaborates with slugs”

A HUGE source of inspiration for me is visual art. I am constantly taking photos in museums(since we don’t have museums here!) or reading art books. I always have a note book with me in a museum. Artists I love are Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Anne Hamilton (I just saw an Anne Hamilton piece that included a vitrine with cabbages being eaten by slugs!), and Louise Bourgeois. Right now I am working on some poets based on Jindrich Heisler photocollagethings. It’s also enormously inspirational for me to read about artists’ processes. For example, seeing the film “Richter Painting” gave me a sense of freedom about relying on instinct rather than intellect. Also I try to write like Daft Punk says they play: “to the very edge of my ability.”

However the MOST important artist in my life right now is my sister Dorothy Hoover,with whom I have collaborated on a performance and a chapbook. She really inspires me because of her conceptual approach.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing with us about your journey as a writer and for letting us in on what you are working on now. I am excited to read your newest poems! You can find more about Elizabeth and order her beautiful chapbook at her website!

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