• Lover's Eye Press

Featured Poet: E. Hughes



I Choose This Life—


the memory of my grandfather

picking an electric guitar


at night in red light, the music

he leads the march


of my dreams with; the picture

of grandmother holding


my young cousin by the seat

of her trousers. Until now,


I’ve trusted in a myth I know

is foolish—light is the lie


I’m letting go of. The future

is dark, is mapped


onto the back of my own hands,

is the blackest periorbital marks


beneath my mother’s eyes.

I’ve always known the way—


the night mirrors the archive of my own skin.


Every day, I’ve chosen life

and not the noose. Life


and not my mother’s rage.

Somehow, I have survived


the length of all my shame—.

Somehow, I’m locating a future


within the timbre of experience. Yes,

I’m working to the rhythm


of my own heartbreak—

to the percussion of my mother’s


tears and each of my siblings’

harmony. I am following the ineffable


song my grandmother’s hums

at the kitchen sink as she runs


water over snapped green beans.

Her voice running water over me.


After Taylor Johnson



E. Hughes

 


Even Now—

–For Marie Gage


My mother pushes

these memories around


with her tongue. Hesitates

then tells me about the way


you jaunted in your wheelchair—

one hand over an opened


bible and a secret pistol

cocked and hidden


beneath a quilt shawling

your residual limbs—


while the other hand reached

over a pot of greens.


All these years later, my mother

still says—Big Mama


nursed my father, her youngest,

after he drank himself into


psychosis. Even now, loneliness

is a portal I enter.


There I meet you both—

wheelchair and wheelchair,


Jimmy’s drooping face,

and your hands brushing


his greying wool hair.

My mother manages


only cool whispers of this past,

summoning from the earth


each of your molecules,

summoning from me tendon


and heartbone.

E. Hughes

 

Husband Home from the Marines


She grabs orange juice for her eldest—

oatmeal for the morning, garlic


and red onion to simmer the beans in

for dinner. Her husband was not there


when she came home from work, and this

baby she carries always craves


shortbread. The woman at the counter

asks—When are you due?


October, she replies. Her husband

of six months seems to have finally


found a job he’ll stay on for more than

a month. He is different now


that he’s come home from the desert—

grinds his teeth at night—not the boy


she knew who called her Kimmy

and wore dress shoes and ties


every day. She avoids telling him

she’s seen the stash of whiskey


he keeps in his coat next to his Marlboros

or that his father called, said Yes,


he can help pay the rent this month.

It’s a ten-minute drive home.


Mother and daughter laugh as they carry

the groceries into the apartment.


My father yells—Where have you been?

My mother says, Down the street at


Lucky’s. Tim, please, I don’t want to start.

She grips tighter the plastic bags,


the fibers begin to thin with weight.

The eldest child runs into the living


room, resumes playing dolls on the floor. No

pregnant woman should be out this late.


I bet that baby isn’t even mine.

The beatings won’t start until after


she gives birth and he says The baby

doesn’t look like my family.


She holds her tongue. No need to start

his fists early.



E. Hughes

 


Historiography


The redwoods run over the Santa Cruz Mountains

with the compulsion of stampeding herds.


The expanse of pine, green as ache, splinters

from the ground like shrines erect


for a god full of promises. As if the mountains

and redwoods were flames ablaze


for progress and salvation, Big Mama

followed her sons to this forest


by the bay. Redwood City, a refuge for Black folk

fleeing the ghostly current of the past—


leaving Noxapater, that house up on bricks

with holes in the subflooring the rats


got through—and Big Daddy—all south.

California must be better than the north—


New York, Detroit, and Chicago—she said to herself

as if an unresolved past stays deadened,


unalive in the need of the surviving. This past

is buried in a capsule at the base


of a cypress tree—in this ledger are the groanings

of women, are the callous calls of children


eaten by secret and silence and grandmothers,

the heart-rhythms our family who


would say None of us suffered—Yet

here we are burning in the aftermath.




E. Hughes

 

Interview Transcript


Eniko Deptuch Vaghy: Please be advised: This episode deals with trauma, addiction, brutality, and domestic violence.


[Intro Music “Far From Home: Music” by madirfan from Pixabay plays]


EDV: Welcome, you are listening to The Lover’s Eye Press Podcast. I am Eniko Deptuch Vaghy, Founding EIC of Lover’s Eye Press.


Michael Williamson: I am Michael Williamson, Fiction Editor of Lover’s Eye Press.


Jules Wood: And I’m Jules Wood the Co-Editor.


[Brief musical interlude]


EDV: Jules and I met E. Hughes last Fall when we attended a graduate poetry workshop run by Professor Christina Pugh at the University of Illinois Chicago. From the minute I heard E. read her work, I knew I was in the midst of an awesome poetic presence. Outside of class, E was all the more magnetic and radiant. During one conversation, E joked, “Do you know what’s more embarrassing than being a poet?” I shook my head and she quickly said “Being in love.” I thought for a moment, almost prepared to disagree—and then I remembered, all my humiliating, flailing attempts to achieve or maintain the affections of another. “Oh my god,” I said to E, “you’re right.” And we both broke down laughing.


I’d already started LEP when I met E., so I knew I wanted to interview her for a future issue. However, after hearing more of her work and, specifically, her voice in her work—the way it cradled and loved and honored her words, making the very relationship between poet and poem seem somehow deeply romantic—I knew that a print interview would not do her justice. So I did some research, bought a podcast mic, got Jules and Michael on board, and here we are—The Lover’s Eye Press Podcast. Here’s to many, many episodes.


Before we proceed with the heart of the podcast, a little more info about our featured poet. E. Hughes (who also goes by Erica, which you’ll probably hear me and the team call her every once in a while) received her MFA+MA from the Litowitz Creative Writing Program at Northwestern University. Her poems have been published in Guernica Magazine, Poet Lore, Wildness Magazine, The Offing, and the Chicago Quarterly Review—among others. She’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award. She was also longlisted for the Granum Fellowship Prize and a finalist for the 2021 Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize. She received a 2022 Hedgebrook Writers Residency (congratulations, E!). Hughes has also been a participant in Tin House summer and winter workshops, the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation workshop as well as the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.


Dear listeners, I and the team at Lover’s Eye Press are pleased to present, E. Hughes.


[E. Hughes reads her poem "Even Now" aloud.]


E. Hughes:

Even Now—

–For Marie Gage


My mother pushes

these memories around


with her tongue. Hesitates

then tells me about the way


you jaunted in your wheelchair—

one hand over an opened


bible and a secret pistol

cocked and hidden


beneath a quilt shawling

your residual limbs—


while the other hand reached

over a pot of greens.


All these years later, my mother

still says—Big Mama


nursed my father, her youngest,

after he drank himself into


psychosis. Even now, loneliness

is a portal I enter.


There I meet you both—

wheelchair and wheelchair,


Jimmy’s drooping face,

and your hands brushing


his greying wool hair.

My mother manages


only cool whispers of this past,

summoning from the earth


each of your molecules,

summoning from me tendon


and heartbone.

E. Hughes


EDV: Please note that audio files for Hughes’ three other poems can be accessed on our site loverseyepress.com and that a full transcript for this podcast episode can also be accessed on our site. Now, on with the show!


[Interview begins]


EDV: How did you find your way to poetry, and when did you start identifying as a poet?


EH: Oh, that's such a long question for me. I have such a strange relationship with poetry, but I guess I'll give the abridged version. I really seriously started writing poetry when I was twenty-one and I was in a really tough spot...I had just left California for the first time and I was in my undergrad at a very small four-year college. And I was experiencing, like, housing insecurity and I was experiencing a lot of just confusion, my background is pretty rough...so, sometimes when you're a first-generation college student you sort of just, like, [laughs] you sort of bat around in the dark until you find your way out...and so I had dropped my Education Major and decided that I just wanted to read books full time, and I had become an English Lit major. And I joined the Creative Writing Club randomly and people had started really reading their poems and I said Oh I have been doing this for a while by myself but was never showing anyone. And then I didn't know at the time that I was writing by myself in journals that there could be an audience for people [laughs] who write secretly, earnestly, in their little journals, little ditties, so it felt really good, you know, to write. They were really terrible poems but it felt really good to have an audience for them. I think not even six months after that I started identifying as a poet even though I was terrible and no one believed in me. [Laughs] They really appreciated the earnestness that I had but I was like This is what I do, I don't care what anyone says, I'm gonna figure this shit out. [Laughs] So, maybe around twenty-one, I really started taking it seriously, but it wasn't until I was about twenty-five that other people really started to notice my work, that I really started to really sink into the work of poetry and not just sort of like--and by "the work" I mean the pain of poetry [giggles] which a lot of people don't like to talk about...and that's sort of really when, around twenty-five was when I really was like Okay, I need to figure out how to make this a career.


JW: That actually leads really beautifully into my question, Erica, talking about settling into the work of poetry. I was just curious how the pandemic has affected your process and, you know, where you're able to get inspiration, right? Like this is... I'll end it there, take it away!


EH: Yeah, the pandemic hasn't really changed my process so much. But it has given me a lot of fewer distractions, ironically...I finished my first collection--it's still unpublished--during the first half of the pandemic--or the second half of the quarantine, really, like when people were still being virtual on social distancing, which is like non-existent anymore, but it really gave me the time and space and I wasn't distracted because I think when I was finishing my collection, at some point I wrote a poem a day [laughs softly] for a good month...to finish it. And I am pretty obsessive in my process already, so I will sit with a poem for weeks, and years, and months [laughs], before I let it finish, and I feel like ironically because I also was in grad school--I was in my MFA program--I was just sort of in my office alone for hours at a time, I think...I think that honestly because poetry also has been sort of my refuge, sort of my safe space, ironically, when things get bad politically...and so that was also another draw... In the pandemic I was also writing the section of my poems, the section of my collection that was dealing with history and a lot of it was trying to grapple with death, Black death particularly, and I had to again grapple with that again in a different poetic form and so that's how I've sort of dealt with it. I was sort of trying to hone in all of this uncertainty into my work. I feel like sometimes instability makes poems better [laughs] you know, especially if you're wobbling your way through to the end.


MW: So, I'll jump in there. I mean, I was also really struck by your comment about, you know, the "work" of poetry and the "pain" of poetry, which, you know, as the lone fiction writer among a group of poets right now, like...I identify with that pain, as well. Um, and, it struck me as--when reading your work, right--that you are kind of constantly bringing to life these very personal and, at times like heart-wrenching moments, right? It feels very "lived in" in that regard. And so I was just wondering if you could maybe think of what is the most, um, like daring thing that you think you've put into words? Has there ever been a moment as you're writing where you... feel scared of your own ability to put something into words or something that you have later regretted, you know?


EH: Yeah, I don't regret--other than my really shitty work that I've put out really early on [begins to laugh] um, [laughs harder] I don't regret [laughs again] any of my poems other than those. I was, I don't know, this is sort of an aside, but I was telling someone a few weeks ago, I was like, Please do not look at my archives, except--like prior to two years ago, please. For [laughs] to save my own reputation, but yeah, I mean so I write a lot about my mother... I sort of know my lineage of poets like Natasha Trethewey, Louise Glück, Dorianne Laux, Robert Hayden... I sort of know--Gwendolyn Brooks--who I'm writing with in my poetry and I am in the tradition of the narrative lyric, or the lyric narrative, and I am--and I know how personal and, to use your words, "lived in" those poems can be and so...my most daring poem probably is one that I've yet to publish but it basically says, you know, to my mother I wanted you to be the person who killed me, no one else, and I feel like I dealt--I've dealt with a lot of violence, I deal with a lot of violence both systemic and interpersonal, a lot of domestic violence is what my first book is about while trying to contend with systemic violence, and I don't regret them but they are petrifying. A lot of my poems are petrifying and I feel like I've gotten used to...I've figured out a poetics for myself, that I can stare what feels dangerous in the face and write it anyway and I feel like that was the hardest part of trying to learn my own poetics. I was also telling a friend a couple weeks ago that...the point of my poems sort of don't land until the very end, the last few lines of my poems, often. And sometimes, I figure that just getting to the point of articulation takes me such momentum, I sort of have to build myself to this very dangerous point and then throw myself off. And that's sort of how I describe that process, and that feels scary each time but there are no regrets, you only have one life to live [laughs] and, you know for a long time I, um...I was worried that no one wanted to hear about a poor Black girl's suffering, and the particularities and the complications of that.


MW: Well, I mean, I will just go ahead and take the liberty of speaking for this group of people in saying that we all want to hear that and we're very grateful for you sharing your story in this really beautiful and revealing way.


EDV: Yeah, I second everything that Michael just said, I mean your work is so important and it's so...it's so engrossing. And I'm really happy that you're writing it, I mean, when I thought about making this podcast, like, you were the first person that came to my mind, like, I want to hear Erica's poetry, and I want to hear...I want to hear her voice in it. That's what we need. So, absolutely, I mean that kinda leads into what I wanted to ask you next which is what compels you to write what you do, and I feel like you've probably kind of answered that question for us, um, but do you feel like this is kind of your driving force, that you're like No, I want to be heard, I need to be heard--is that kind of your catalyst for a lot of your poems?


EH: Um yeah, I feel like...[sighs] I feel like it's more, for me, it's less about needing to be heard and more about me needing to work out conundrums. I have...there's so many intellectual and emotional conundrums I sit with on a regular basis. I mean...one of the first difficulties of my manuscript, writing that book, was trying to articulate Yeah, my mom may have beaten me, but also here are the people who beat her. And here are the people who...were racist and anti-Black against her and made mothering difficult for her. It wasn't just her fault [laughs]. You know? So I--that was a large conundrum I had to sit with was that, you know, I experienced a lot of violence as a child but I know the people who inflicted violence against me were often humiliated by the system, and often humiliated by their elders and so for me my poem is less about my sort of--even though my lyric "I" sits with, you know, the confessional and the lyric, I bury a lot but it was more about how my "I" sort of points back to a larger "we" and a larger lineage of, like, pain and suffering and endurance. And so, like, I think that's a lot of where my work comes from, you know, even though I take on an "I," I always have sort of the say of a "we" and the people who raised me and, you know, I always...talk a lot about, you know, my grandparents being the last of--one of the last waves out of the South, out of the Great Migration out of the South to the Bay Area, and what kind of trauma--like, my grandparents can't even talk about the South, like they can't even talk about it--they brought to this new place, and what that brought to their children, and what that eventually brought to me. So it's definitely, for me, it's definitely not my personal historical conundrums, but also my family's historical conundrums that I'm sitting with and always working out with and then beyond that, you know, what it means to be a Black being trying to write poetry in a language that wasn't even supposed to be mine.


JW: I think it's so powerful the way that questions like, you know, you're saying that you're working within the "I," you're working with the confessional, but that it's also a "we." And somewhere that I think that that was worked out so powerfully in form is in your poem "Husband Home from the Marines" and, you know, we're in third-person and then there's this sudden insertion of "My father yells—Where have you been? / My mother says..." and the eruption of the first-person there is stunning. I love that moment so much. And it's, it's subtle, it's quiet, it's--you might need to read it more than once to catch it but that feels like the enactment of exactly what you're talking about. And that, you know, I find that throughout your poems, like thinking about that you're working through conundrums and these kind of difficult to untie problems that are going to be--you know, you need to knead them and knead them through. You know, I can see that just being a forever project, right? And, so, an observation I was making when I was reading your poems is just how unexpected some of your connections are that you're making both in figurative language and just through familial connections. So two examples that I have of that, Erica, are in your last poem--or, I'll start, I'll start with the one that struck me first, which is in your poem, uh, "Even Now" where you say "Even now, loneliness / is a portal I enter. // There I meet you both— / wheelchair and wheelchair..." which is, of course, just stunning lines but also when you think about it...wow, loneliness is what is connecting you to your family. Loneliness is what is doing that, that's the bridge, like that's--that is an entirely unique perspective, that is not something that I have heard elsewhere, and it feels like such a...like that--that has given me such a deep understanding, you know, in my small window into your history. So that moment just knocked me off my feet, and then a smaller moment but that does a similar thing in an interesting way is in your last poem "Historiography" where you say "The expanse of pine, green as ache..." and the way that that color green being associated with aching--what other poet would I find that association with, you know what I mean? Like, I feel--I truly feel like you're, you're taking something like aching, which I feel has almost like a synesthetic color association, right? I'm like Oh, aching, is either blue or red! Those are the "aching colors." And you're taking me and you're twisting my prism and saying No, in this poem green is aching, and that was just incredible to me. So that...just I commend you, there's not much of a question here, although I welcome, if you wanna add any thoughts to that.


EH: Yeah, [laughs softly] "Historiography"....I think? Wait, hold on, I'm thinking of the other one in "Even Now" actually. Those are poems that took me forever to write, because they're not about me. You know? ...Both of those poems have my Big Mama who was my mother's grandmother, my mother's paternal grandmother, in them, and she's sort of this active figure in my mother's life. I think she's one of the people that she had loved the most. And I'm so indebted to her and I love all the pictures that I have of her. But because of this, and because she died before I was born, I was knee-deep in trying to get some family secrets [clears throat] from them. And so like in "Even Now" that "loneliness is a portal I enter" I mean, I--that is like literally--that felt like the only way I could enter into a space of this woman trying to nurse her youngest child who had this huge addiction issue. And "green as ache," I feel like, you know, being from California is such a weird thing, especially I'm from the Silicon Valley, which it was never called the Silicon Valley when I was a child--it's called San Jose [laughs]. And it's so, it's so weird it's so green and in--particularly, like, in wintertime and early spring it's so green and all the pines are green and the grass that grows on the hills is green and I feel like that is a moment, like in "Historiography" where I was trying to talk about the pain of place, the pain of being from somewhere and not a lot of people that I know, that are not from California have been to the Bay Area, particularly in wintertime and in the early spring when everything is so green and luscious, but that is the memory I have of my kidhood around the mountains and the hills surrounding my grandmother's house, walking home from school and seeing them in the distance, these green hills. And those memories, like, pain me [laughs] you know? 'Cause it's not like that anymore, and so those are just like things, moments where I needed people to understand that this is a particular place, this is a particular kind of history and I was just trying to get really close to that texture.


MW: That spurs a lot of thoughts for me [laughs] talking to you, again to use Jules' word this "synesthetic" connection to your own memory and the pain of those memories associated with the greeness of it all, I really, um...[I'm] still processing everything you just said about that. That's really wonderful. Similar to Jules' approach just now, I have a question for you that I think is more formal. I noticed in reading these, this particular collection of poems that LEP is lucky enough to publish in its forthcoming issue, I noticed that they're all written in couplets, as a series of couplets, and I found that in a certain kind of way, like, jarring and shocking, which you know I never thought that I would be jarred by a couplet like that, you know? You know, there seems to be like just like this really precise concision, organization to your work. Even though it's like obviously depicting these very complex, interior thoughts, these very complex histories, right? These, at times, like turbulent family relationships both interpersonal and intergenerational. So I guess I'm curious you know, what draws you to the couplet as a poetic unit? Um, and like how do you see the couplet as aiding you in the production of these worlds that you're rendering?


EH: That is a--that is such a good question, and I'm going to say this: the couplet haunts me. No clue why, still trying to figure this out [laughs] for myself. But I think one of the things...and this goes again to my lineage of poets, I think I love poets who sort of have--I love, I love poets who can sort of, like, forsake...evenness and symmetry in their work, I love it! I read so many poems from poets who are like that and I read their work with...with a lot of jealousy. And I do have poems that require a kind of rupture and disregulation, but one of the things--because I am dealing with such horrific topics--one of the things I wanted to do to sort of control [laughs] control the poem was to have a kind of form. Most of my lines are between nine and thirteen syllables long, I know that and...I work really well with the line as a unit of meaning and therefore the couplet as a unit of meaning. So it is my--at times when I'm using the couplet--it is my way to, like, think about what is subconsciously happening beneath the syntax. I am not just looking--you know, at times I use the couplet as a way to pause at an image, at half-meaning, and I think at times the couplet for me is like stills, stills of feelings, stills of an image, stills of a person, stills of a question, and one of the things I was also working through in this collection particularly was thinking of the archive as a metaphor. Like, my book as an archive of sorts, and so for me at times I'm looking at phrases as objects or these little moments, these small bits of things sort of like you would flipping through an archive and [saying] like Oh, this is a picture, oh I saw one earlier that was sort of like this but in this collection this person is doing this and sort of like it's my way of--of formal rupture without making the whole poem rupture. Especially because I still want to keep intact that narrative and that narrative element and this goes back to like, again, like Natasha Trethewey's work, Robert Hayden's work, Dorianne Laux's work, I mean they do what I try to do the best [laughs]. In a lot of ways, I take from them and I love the way they tend to use couplets to slow the reader down but also to say Here, pause for a moment at the end of this stanza. Um, but I will say the couplet does have some odd hold on me. Don't know why, still trying to work through it [laughs].


MW: I mean, I think that's really fascinating...like I think, like, any--any artist is familiar with that feeling, right? Of this thing you are drawn to do, even though you have no understanding of why you're drawn to do it. I also really love this idea of finding--or...I guess, finding order within chaos or turning chaos into order, you know what I mean? I feel like there are so many poets whose work I love where that feels like the primary aim, you know, like I'm thinking Essex Hemphill who was writing during the AIDS epidemic and is like cramming all of these very complex thoughts and emotions into a form that is so recognizable, right? And into a form that makes it feel organized even though it is obviously the most chaotic subject matter, right? So yeah I really appreciate that answer.


EDV: Erica, I could hear you talk about your work all day. Like, you know your work so well--I don't even know how many syllables are in a line of poetry that I write, and you're just like Yeah, I know it, it's right here, I can tell you. I know my work intimately. [laughs] And so I just love it, it's so enjoyable to hear! Um, I'm noticing...as we're going through these questions and I'm hearing your fabulous responses that, you know, you talk a lot about like a poetic lineage that you are a part of as well as like a family lineage and you brought up this word that actually I've really wanted to talk to you about since you mentioned it in that very first workshop that we took together, but the realm of the archive and, um, this power--kind of the authority--of the archive that holds a lot of authority over our lives. And I wanted to ask, you know, could you further describe your interest in the archive, and how you use your poetry to excavate that interest more? And I use that word "excavate" like really intentionally because, I mean...the archive is not perfect [laughs]. And I just wanted to know if you could describe your interest in that just a little bit more?


EH: Yeah the archive is not perfect and it's also curated. And I feel like a lot of people don't realize that archives are curations or someone's sort of formulation of the past. And, you know, I think a lot in poetics with Saidiya Hartman['s] "Venus in Two Acts", it has really changed my poetics, I feel like that is a craft essay and more people should teach that as a craft essay. She asks a very simple question in that as she's looking at two slave girls eradicated from the archive but only who are traceable in the archive by captains...like slave captains over slave ships. They're either court [laughs] testimonies or they're just accounts of what's happening, um, I forget, there's one other man, but I'd have to go revisit to make sure I get that right. But in the face of dealing with that history she asks How does one tell impossible stories? Right? And I think that, you know, I think in some ways like, yes, I take up critical fabulation, I speculate a lot into the archives because I think a lot of Black archives are lost, will continue to be lost and there is a lot of non-interest by larger systems and people in power, of not preserving Black life in the material. And so my interest in the archive particularly came from my own interest in my family's archive--a lot of secrets--but also in this fact that there's not a lot...people don't know that there are Black people and have been Black people in the Bay Area since, like, the Spaniards got there [laughs] and I feel like a lot of that history people don't know. Like, I remember asking professors, Do you know about slaves brought to California? They couldn't [answer] those questions. I had to go find a damn-near hundred-year-old book before I could see how slaves were brought to California, because there were no plantations in California but there were mines, and so...my interest in the archive came from a place of my own reality and where my parents came from and my grandparents came from being erased, especially like in the face of like Facebook, Google, and all these--Twitter--all these large corporations that now run the Bay Area. Like, my mother, the house that she grew up in is now across the street from Facebook, like literally Facebook owns the stuff right across from where she grew up and it's gone, right? Like, a city that was predominantly Black is now gone because of the rising rent prices and whatnot. So, I feel like my interest in the archive has always come out of this perpetual erasure that I've felt growing up, and especially when I left California, people were like I don't know about that history. You know, I don't know about the Harlem of the West. I don't know about the juke joints in Oakland, I don't know about Richmond. I don't know--like, my mother and my father they all tell these stories about being fed by the Panthers. My grandfather was best friends with Huey Newton's brother! [laughs] Like, in Redwood City! Because the community was that small. And so it was...you know, and I don't know how true or accurate that is but I'm gonna go with oral history here because people are...there's just like loss, there's just loss over and over again that happens in my life and in my family and the people I come from and, you know, when you want to talk about Black people in 1910 in San Francisco there aren't a lot of images that come up or you wanna talk about, for example, how a group of free Black people in San Jose in the 1800s fought for the freedom of fugitive slaves. People don't have images of that and that's where a lot of my obsession--I am obsessed with the archive [laughs] as a concept. But it's also like the loss of the archive that I'm also obsessed with. Like how do I now speak from an abyss of loss? Which is another conundrum [laughs] I'm always thinking of. So that is where my interest comes from and, again, I'm taught by Nikky Finney, by Rita Dove, Thomas and Beulah, obviously Thylias Moss the way...that they allow erasure, oral history, loss to exist in their poetics is something I strive for deeply.


JW: Beautiful. I'm with Eni I could hear you talk about this all day, Erica. [Laughs] I have a, I have a simple question for you, um, is there anything that you um,...well, I'll phrase it this way: What could a reader get wrong about your work?


EH: A reader could get wrong that I am trying to reprimand my mother and my family, 'cause I'm not. [Laughs] I'm not. I think life is too complicated to reprimand publicly a Black single mother with three children [laughs]. I also think life is too complicated to reprimand publicly a Black man with addiction problems [laughs]. I think that's the wrong stance, I feel like--but that's also the great risk I take in talking about my family particularly because I know that this violence is a handed down violence that doesn't stem from us [laughs]. But also, just the long history of Black death and violence against Black people and terrorism that my family, like, were not able to escape poverty, precarity, um I feel like sometimes I'm always trying to situate. In the beginning of my collection, my first collection, I have births and deaths, and I always try to situate it like okay, so my mom was born in 1963, Malcolm X died the next year, so did Dr. King--or around that time--and my great-grandmother was born in 1921 and this happened in 1919, or this person died in 1915, or [clears throat]--I'm trying to situate everything. Like in...like while I'm turning to talk about this intimacy, I'm also making sure that I contextualize that this intimacy is happening while--like a lot of the ones that are about my childhood just specifically--while the Great Recession is happening, while [Hurricane] Katrina happens, right? While you know, [laughs]...there's so many things happening while all of this happens and I want people to recognize, like, the push and pull of the intimate space and the public space and how those two things [rubs hands together] rub shoulders. And that's sort of the texture I want my poems to take on. You know, one of the things again someone can...make wrong, I am not pointing a finger at my family, I'm not pointing the finger, but I am holding us accountable. But I'm also pointing the finger at the world, you know what I mean, that makes it impossible and difficult to make different decisions for your life. How can you--another conundrum I'm always asking myself--how can you raise a child when you feel like your life is not your own? And that's something I had to ask my--about my parents when I started writing about them. How can you raise someone when you can't love yourself? How can you look your child in the face when you don't have money for rent? Right? Like...like I feel sometimes people want to make poems so simple. They want to make Black lives so flat--um, 2D?--and not a particular world that Black people walk through and I'm always trying to sit in the world where you have to look at your own child and say I don't have enough. And a lot of parents experience that, and also to be the child of the parent that says that they don't have enough and to recognize as a child that it's not completely, one-hundred percent their fault, because there's no reason [laughs briefly] there's no reason no one should be able to afford food, or housing, or you know things like parenting classes, or you know having to choose to pick up your child from school or to go work--things like that, that my parents have had to deal with, you know what I mean? So I'm always...the worst thing you can do in reading my poems is choose a side. There are no sides in this world. There really aren't.


EDV: What I notice about you as a person and as well as a poet, is that your being and your work is typified by a very profound kind of love. Um, and with that final question and with that explanation--and I mean, a brilliant question from Jules and then an equally amazing and profound answer from you, I feel like that love is just...is so brilliant...and it's unmistakable. So, thank you.


EH: Thank you. [Laughs] Thank you, guys.


[Outro music plays]


EDV: This episode of the Lover’s Eye Press Podcast was created through the assistance of Riverside.fm and Zoom.


Our theme music is Far From Home: Music by madirfan from Pixabay

Be sure to leave a review and share this podcast with all your literary-minded loves. Also give us a follow at loverseyepress on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We’d appreciate it.


Special thanks, once again, to the talent of E. Hughes, our partners and family members who supported us through the creation of this podcast (we love you), and of course, the LEP community—we wouldn’t be here without you.

 

E. Hughes received her MFA+MA from the Litowitz Creative Writing Program at Northwestern

University. Her poems have been published in Guernica Magazine, Poet Lore, Wildness

Magazine, The Offing, and the Chicago Quarterly Review—among others. She’s been

nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award. She was also longlisted for the

Granum Fellowship Prize and a finalist for the 2021 Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize. She received a

2022 Hedgebrook Writers Residency. Hughes has been a participant in Tin House summer and

winter workshops, the Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation workshop as well as the

Palm Beach Poetry Festival.


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