[…] poetry collection holds space and invites creativity
Poet Ava Hofmann chats about inspiration and how one should approach her work.
Ahead of the November release of Ava Hofmann’s book of poetry […] by Astrophil Press, I had the pleasure of asking questions about her work and an approach to poetry that I have been watching for months on her Twitter account @st_somatic.
Glimpses of Hofmann’s latest work caught my attention immediately due to its painstakingly crafted presentation. Reading in a linear fashion is often difficult for me, and the poetry leaking out of her account as the book was being finished harnessed the way I tend to look at a written page – as a whole; like taking in a scene.
“Often you get taught that words and images are different things. But a letter or a word is just a weird, tiny image, and pictures can tell whole stories all by themselves,” explains Hofmann. “There is not a real difference – we just pretend that there is. My work is writing that is arranged and combined with images in order to be pretty, like a picture. I do this because I like this better than words or images alone.”
If you ‘read’ in the way that I do, you are often left just a little bit bereft. Instead of scanning for content, I find myself lost in the physical shapes of words, a page’s white space, and the blossoming relationships between the shoulders and spines of H’s, M’s, and S’s. To me, it seems like a mistake when what you are left with is just a sentence. But in conventional writing, the result of looking too closely at the individual letters that make up the words obliterates the scene that the image taken in all at once presents.
It looks wrong.
Hofmann’s work offers both thoughtful and engaging content to devour and a beautifully constructed scene. “When you read my work, I often want you to feel like you have read something new and exciting, maybe dangerous, like a book of occult spells. I want the poems to feel as if they are “opening” something, rather than closing – to offer you a space to think and reflect and create along with my work.”
This reflection is a key component of Hofmann’s work. No matter how the reader takes in the work, it requires active process from the audience – even if the result of that engagement is a sort of puzzling feeling. “[O]ne of the biggest influences on me has been watching documentaries and doing research into the realm of painting and visual art: Understanding the more open-ended and open-minded approach visual arts fields have had relative to the publishing industry, as well as visual art’s prioritization of process over craft has greatly expanded the way I think about writing and the things that I will allow myself to consider ‘good enough’ writing to create and publish.”
A poem by Ava Hofmann entitled “of an animal which […] half-man.” But what’s the other half! A jackal?
The prioritization of Hofmann’s process is tangible when you look at the poems. You cannot ignore it. The process is quite literally directly addressing and guiding you.
The process is so well-honed and instructive that it is presented to the reader as a part of the work. To offer that so freely is not an easy choice. Hofmann shares that “[a]nother difficult part of writing[,] I think[,] is sharing work. I’ve worked through a lot of this, but I think you see so many writers out there hoarding their writing because they don’t think it’s good enough or it’s quite yet ‘done.’ They take less risks with getting stuff published or might never submit a poem again if it gets rejected by a magazine.”
I asked Hofmann to consider what a step-by-step guide for approaching her work might look like, and the artist has crafted the following instructions for you:
- Look at the poem. Don’t read it – but think about how it is shaped. What images are there, what textures are there, how are the pieces of text oriented? If you start by appreciating my work as something visual – like a painting – you have already “read” it correctly before reading a single word.
- Once you have looked at it, if you would like to read it, start reading it. Feel free to read the texts or elements of a given page in any order you prefer. Feel free to skip bits you want to skip. The text is yours now, and you get to choose how to read it.
- If there is something in the poem that makes you feel strange, ask yourself why that is. If something feels confusing or unresolved, learn to derive aesthetic enjoyment from that lack of clarity or resolution.
- Contribute to the poem by defacing it with your own thoughts, ideas, and images.
- If the work meant something to you, let me know by sending me an email or message on twitter.
Next week’s Arts & Culture section will contain part two of my interview with Hofmann, focusing on the process of creating […], what that process was informed by, and the importance of presenting the styles, forms, emotions, and experiences of trans people.
You can reach Ava Hofmann on her website (https://nothnx.com/), and on her Twitter (@st_somatic). You can preorder […] at Astrophil Press beginning on October 1st, 2021 (https://www.astrophilpress.com/titles)