A visiting professor at the University of Toledo recently published her first book, Let’s All Die Happy, the winner of the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize at the University of Pittsburgh Press.
“It uses a woman’s lens,” Erin Adair-Hodges said of her book. “It’s very much about living in this world in a woman’s body, and sorting through these ideas of apostasy — exploring these institutions, be they religious or cultural, that we’re told will fulfill us but don’t, and what do we do with that space afterwards.”
Adair-Hodges will give a reading and sign copies of the book at 6 p.m. Thursday at Libbey Hall on the University of Toledo’s Main Campus.
Let’s All Die Happy was published as part of the Pitt Poetry Series, one of the largest and best-known publishers of American poetry.
The Agnes Lynch Starrett prize, named after the first director of the publishing house, is given to a writer for the publication of his or her first full-length book of poems. Richard Blanco, who read at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, is among previous winners. The honor includes a $5,000 cash award.
Let’s All Die Happy features several poems about parenting and motherhood, Adair-Hodges said, “but in ways that are hopefully a little surprising” about postpartum depression and “this love that doesn’t always lead to happiness.”
Adair-Hodges and her husband have a 6-year-old son who she’s quick to point out is great.
“Sometimes ... we want our characterization of motherhood to be [one] of all-loving and self-sacrificing, and when people deviate from that there’s judgment and shame. And I think we need more stories that share the complicated nature of being a woman and a mother while also trying to be your own person. Those are very difficult roles to feel that you’re attending to all of them and succeeding to all of them. And you can’t really.”
Adair-Hodges is originally from Albuquerque, N.M., and has a bachelor’s degree in English and women’s studies from New Mexico State University and a graduate degree in poetry from the University of Arizona. She has taught English and theater in middle school and high school, and literature at Central New Mexico Community College.
She joined the University of Toledo in late summer for a one-year, renewable visiting professorship. This semester, she’s teaching four upper-division undergraduate classes.
Adair-Hodges describes a surprising journey to poetry.
“I thought I hated poetry, but it turns out that I had just read poetry that wasn’t right for me,” she said. “I had only been exposed to a handful of dead white writers, and I thought that’s what poetry was. I didn’t see a place for me in it.”
She credits an undergraduate poetry workshop for changing her mind and showing her “how diverse and exciting poetry’s play with language and meaning is.”
“I think too few people get that exposure, and that’s too bad, because I was totally transformed by that experience.”
Adair-Hodges says she didn’t grow up in a community that focused much on the arts, and, as a result, she didn’t realize that it was something she could do.
“I think I’ve come to it all a little bit later than many, but I had to find my own way,” she said.
But the journey, she said, has helped shape her writing and given her a different perspective on success.
“I think if I’d have found success as a younger person, I’d have been insufferable,” she said. “Knowing me, I think I would have thought that I deserved it, and that talented people find success. And that’s just not the way it goes. There’s a whole host of reasons that people don’t get to pursue the thing that they potentially would be really great at.”
That’s something she said she tries to share with her students. That and to put away the “English class lens” we often use to approach poetry.
“I think poetry asks us to go on a little bit more of an extended journey,” she said. “It asks a little bit more of our attention, but I think it, therefore, rewards us a little bit more than content that is easily consumable. Poetry isn’t there to inform, it’s there to transform.”
Contact Shannon E. Kolkedy at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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