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Welcome, Erin Hoover!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Erin Hoover, whose poetry collection No Spare People is due out next fall.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

 

The Author

Erin Hoover is the author of Barnburner, selected by Kathryn Nuernberger for Elixir Press’s Antivenom Award and winner of a 2018 Florida Book Award.  Publishers Weekly called Barnburner a “candid portrait of normalized cruelty” that was “likely to get readers to question their own malignant perceptions and passivity in the face of injustice.” Her second book, No Spare People, is forthcoming in October 2023. Hoover’s poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry and Best New Poets, among other publications. Poems from No Spare People have been published (or will appear) in Bennington Review, Cincinnati Review, Couplet, the Florida Review, On the Seawall, Poetry Northwest, Shenandoah, and Split This Rock. Hoover is an assistant professor of English at Tennessee Tech.

 

 

 

On Writing No Spare People

No Spare People documents the joys and perils of a tiny mother-daughter family navigating life on the margins of the middle class. In it, I question some of the core beliefs people hold about gender, personal autonomy, and the family, especially in the American South, where I now live. Some of these I’d always known but never let myself articulate until I chose to have a child with a donor and to raise her alone in a categorically “one man, one woman” culture.

My poem “Homewrecker” begins “You’d have to understand the home / as a unified construct….” and then line by line destroys the logic of that assumption. At the level of this collection, I want my poems to assert a queer identity, where queer entails a different and more authentic relationship to my surroundings, environmental and human. Take, for instance, the dystopian moment of resistance in “At the child support office.” For the epigraphs, I chose quotations from Sara Ahmed and Adrienne Rich that avow the material implications of (and reasoning for) feminism.

My book is also about economic instability, as it intersects with gender but also more broadly because we live in a really fraught and hungry time. I moved four times in the past five years, the time period of No Spare People’s composition, and in the poems, I try to talk about what social and cultural upheaval feels like, not in theory, but on the ground – Rich’s instruction to “begin with the material.” I began writing my book in 2017 when I was pregnant, determined to remain unpartnered, and financially precarious (I am still two of the three). At the time, autocrats were putting forth policy that would sacrifice groups of people (see: policies for health, immigration, police) in a way that felt new and frightening, though of course it wasn’t new.

The cliché goes that Trump finally “said the quiet part loud.” I think that No Spare People does the same for my own quiet part. Per a line from the last poem (“What if pain no longer ordered the narrative,” not included here), my family has no spare people. The quality of having plenty of something (spare) is undercut by the notion of the utility of a person and the potential to lose a child. But in the world of this book, right now, No Spare People is also an imperative. I am calling for the fulfillment of possibility. From “To be a mother in this economy,” “they are everything to her, / these beloveds, until she walks away.”


Excerpts

 

Homewrecker

You’d have to understand the home
           as a unified construct, as a guarded entity,
locked up like a bank vault, a virgin,
           or like a rarified set of collectible dolls
with no inherent value but worth agreed
           upon. You’d have to really
buy into that,
           the quality of the dolls’ cornsilk hair,
or wee fingernails painted with real polish,
           the hardscrabble factory in Minnesota
where Slovenian immigrants hand-sewed
           their 100% cotton gowns half a century
before your husband was born. You’d need
           to assume that a man
could be as pliant as one of these plastic,
           factory-built objects, his limbs
grooved to only move certain ways,
           careful turning the head as it’s liable
to snap off with enough hard twisting.
           Do you, personally, know a particular
man like this, a vessel, or will any man do
           whose attention turns lightly on a thick,
nearby thumb, are you lucky to seize
           such an empty wisp of a man, to grip tight
to that vacancy and hold fast,
           you good girl?


[originally appeared in Couplet]

 

 


At the child support office

the children were surprisingly calm. Later I’d learn
what my own child would accept, grown used
to our nomadic life, but that was years away. Barely

a person at two weeks, unlike me, she couldn’t focus
on the men shuffling to the window to murmur
words like cohabitate instead of what I would say,

lived with, paternity instead of father. I understood
that the men used legal rather than familial words
because we were in an open-plan, echoing room

that wasn’t about families at all. I too had come
to make a declaration, that my baby was mine alone.
At my turn, the clerk asked if I had proof, and I looked

down at the fold of my child’s mouth, her animal
hands. I felt the diaper that held together my body
ripped open not long before – I could hardly walk –

but maybe that only proved, like her birth certificate,
that I was her mother. You can’t prove a negative,
I wanted to say, but the nurse taking blood

in the corner of the room wanted that, the man
with his sleeve rolled up wanted it too. I see a father
listed, the clerk said, and told me a French name,

man piloting a swamp boat through my imagination.
A stranger who, peering under our car seat bonnet,
would be as confused as I am at how the State of Florida

found a husband for me. Clerical error of a man.
In response, I supplied the Latinate words that conjured
my baby, artificial insemination, for all to hear,

handing over the letter I asked my doctor to write.
My word, I had to do that, get a letter like that.
I’ve learned that I can’t tell people what they don’t

already believe, but I fought for that blank space.
This isn’t a confession but the facts that surround us,
as everyone has, and once my child’s fake father was gone,

I thanked the clerk and ran through the parking lot
through the gathered, hissing geese. I drove home,
opened my shirt, and on that spring day, fed my child.

 

[originally appeared in Shenandoah]

 

 

 


To be a mother in this economy

My child babies a squeeze bottle of craft glue
           or a lipstick tube filched from my purse.
She yanks a tissue from our coffee table

and spreads it out in the air, covers the baby,
           then balls up a second tissue to fluff
under its pretend head. They’re all over the carpet,

babies. I want to help, but she motions me to go,
           shushes me. I find them everywhere,
rock baby, Matchbox baby, soapy baby

barrel of blow-bubbles. Sometimes
           she’ll let me tuck her babies into our bed,
where they slumber alongside us, when I can,

when I’m with her. But I’m not always home,
           department store suit creased
into my luggage, phone jacked into an airport

wall, all those hotel stays hopeful for the job
           on the horizon, my baby in the care
of a friend. Sometimes the job came and we moved,

and my child learned to make friends and lose them,
           to shape her body to different earth
for a time, then say goodbye. I’m with her now,

I’m here, but I wonder if my absence lives inside
           her, if the babies are about that,
they are everything to her, these beloveds,

until she walks away.

 

[forthcoming in Split This Rock]