Tuesday, November 7, 2023

On Reading "No Spare People" by Erin Hoover


When I put down my copy of Erin Hoover’s new book of poems, I am surprised that my hands are not covered in scars. Not paper cuts, but cuts to the core of my being, reckoning with the humanity and heartbreak of 21st century poetic activism in the American south. This torturously beautiful thing is so raw and real that it might injure the reader with its tender and truthful rendering of reality, but at the same time, the language is so purposefully alluring and intensely real and wildly evocative, I will surely pick it up again, and again, to read and read over once more.

These poems fall from the page as the perspective of a single parent, yes, a mother, a professor, a poet, an activist, but is the narrator always Erin Hoover or also another feminist protagonist navigating the bewildering facts of Florida and Arkansas during the days of waning rights and rising seas and bewildering struggles, all said through a piercing selfhood that is neither this courageous archetype nor their demeaning stereotype, wrestling with each instance, as we go. 

I have spent decades in similar settings to these, as with other fellow activist poets, as we inevitably run into oddly familiar cul-de-sacs of consciousness, where we survive hurricanes and elections and protest marches to breathe another day, to write another poem. Yet as each setting calls to me with the too real, the poems are also new and unexpected.

So while each poem is at once jarring and strange for the ways Hoover’s daringly specific language turns any assumptions or desire for comfort completely topsy-turvy, there are also vulnerable assurances in the poems just the same. Maybe we call that solidarity or hope or just the audacity to say a thing, no matter the cost. 

Long disclaimer: I am a totally biased reader in favor of these amazing texts by this fierce and brave poet. The poet is my colleague and a bit of a personal shero of mine, as I have witnessed all the good she has given to literary culture in our interesting college town. 

Permit some backstory as to how I am biased. 

You see, I am a poet by calling but not necessarily by trade, since my faculty appointment is in general education courses, not creative writing. That is, while I am a poet and faculty, I am not the faculty poet. And I have some stake in whoever that person is, I am invested in them being an important part of our campus and community. And we had a previous beloved faculty poet, who died suddenly in 2019, just months after another dear faculty friend and mentor, also died.

Erin Hoover came to Cookeville to fill the vacancy left by the late Tom Saya’s passing, and she beat out dozens and dozens of other talented and dynamic poets to earn this position. Then, in her short time here, she has completely blown my mind with her talent and determination to do good and cool things in Cookeville. 

I was already biased in favor of the poet and colleague Erin Hoover without this amazing book, but No Spare People has taken me very specific places that I didn’t know I needed to go, to places that we all need to go if we are going to fully lean into the common irrevocable humanity implied by the book’s bold title.  --Book cover art by Ever Baldwin Ever Baldwin

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