By Claire Torregiano
Carlie Hoffman is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, This Alaska (Four Way Books, 2021). Hoffman earned her MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where she was the recipient of a creative writing teaching fellowship, a Philip Guston Endowed Writing Fellowship, and was a poetry editor of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. Currently, she is a lecturer in creative writing at Purchase College, SUNY. Hoffman is also the founding editor and editor-in-chief of Small Orange, a poetry journal. She lives in Brooklyn. As her former student, I was delighted to speak with her about her creative work and process. We spoke over a video conference call in September 2020 and discussed the processes of drafting, revising, and arranging this collection.
CT: When did you decide you were going to write a book of poetry?
CH: I didn’t really realize I was writing a book. With poetry, you have a bunch of poems already and then you have to figure out how they’re in conversation with each other. I never felt like I was finished with the draft, actually. I still don’t feel like I’m finished. It’s a strange experience. I started writing the book in grad school, where I workshopped the poems. At the time it was a thesis that I eventually revised into this book. When I submitted it, my advisor said, this is a book. They gave me suggestions on what was missing and what needed to be revised. When This Alaska was accepted for publication, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to put it away now.’ I had started working on a second collection, and I just put it away.
CT: What was the biggest change from the first draft to the final publication?
CH: I’m in the process of talking to one of my editors about making it into the final draft for publication. And the thing that I’ve realized through this process is that I’m so obsessed with word choice, and I’m really excited about that because I feel like I have a stronger grasp on language and the connotations of words. Words can really alter what it is you’re trying to say, and you have to think about line-by-line and word-by-word what it is you’re communicating.
CT: Is there anything you didn’t want to change from your first draft?
CH: I’ll take a poem out if I need to. I’m happy to cut things out and make edits. But there was a conversation about the title: This Alaska. The tangible setting of the collection does not actually take place in Alaska; it’s more about the imagination’s reaction to trauma. The speaker moves between real, tangible spaces and this imagined Alaska-world, and these shifts are woven throughout the collection. I had two readers who had opposing critiques about the movement of these two different spaces. One of them said the collection required more poems set in the real spaces, while the poems in the imagined spaces in Alaska belonged somewhere else. The other reader said that the imagined spaces had to stay in the collection. Having those opposing viewpoints compelled me to think about what I was trying to accomplish in the book, and this conversation led me to put the collection back into sections. I had previously taken the book out of its sections at some point during the revising process, but after the conversation with my readers, I realized the collection had to be in sections in order for the movement between spaces to work. The one thing I was hell-bent on was making the imagined Alaska-world work with the real space.