Ohio Interviews: Chelsea Hodson

 Chelsea Hodson performing Inventory: Under Objects Under Oath. Photo: Karina Vahitova
Chelsea Hodson performing Inventory: Under Objects Under Oath. Photo: Karina Vahitova

In Pity The Animal you talk about the commodification of female bodies. What are your thoughts on how society objectifies and places a worth on female bodies? Pity The Animal also focuses on your experiences when you were young. What do you think society teaches young girls today about their bodies, sex, etc.?

I’m not qualified to speak on this; it varies greatly based on any number of factors, but the most interesting concept to me is that of women as objects or props. When I began writing the chapbook, I wanted to know what the difference was between human, animal, and object. The line seemed blurry and I set out to attempt to define it for myself.

From a bandit masked man to Marina Abramovic, Pity The Animal’s format involves going back and forth between stories and is also peppered with quotes from various people. Was there a particular reason why your chapbook was written this way? Did you want your readers to gain anything out of the format?

Yes, I wanted the pieces to accumulate until I arrived at something resembling truth. I find that everything is connected if I pay enough attention.

I also understand you have an audio album called Night Redacted that will be released soon from Black Cake. Can you tell me about the album’s conception and what it’s about?

Night Redacted will be released by Black Cake Records, it consists of 10 new poems I recorded in my bedroom about absence and badness.

What do you think your audience will gain from Night Redacted by listening to the poems rather than reading them?

I like the intimacy of hearing someone read their work, especially in headphones. So I suppose that ideally, a listener of Night Redacted would feel as if I’d knocked on their door and entered their bedroom to tell them something in secrecy.

What was it like for you as an author to transition from just publishing your written work to recording your poems or performing in front of a crowd? Do you find reading your work aloud hard? Do you prefer just publishing your work or performing it?

I used to get very nervous, but I think performing my Inventory project for 7 hours made me strong. If someone asked me two years ago to read for 20 minutes I’d spend days in a panic spiral, but now I’m like, “Only 20 minutes?” Readings are inherently so dull, I’m excited about finding ways to create more tension. Lately, I’m interested in reciting from memory.

In terms of publishing versus performing, I don’t prefer one over the other, but the most important thing is that the work stands alone on a page. If a writer can command a stage, great, but some of my favorite writers are terrible performers.

Is there a performance of yours that didn’t go your way? Would you mind sharing it? What did you take away from it?

I suppose the most unexpected thing that’s happened is fainting while performing Inventory: Under Objects Under Oath. It was a marathon reading, but I wanted there to be tension—I thought it would be too boring if I sat. I tried to move my legs enough so my knees wouldn’t lock, but around the 90 minute mark, I announced, “I’m getting light-headed,” and collapsed. I awoke almost immediately, and everyone else seemed more concerned than I was. I just got in a chair, had a sip of apple juice, and continued.

Once I sat, my voice was smoother and more controlled. The perfectionist side in me wants to say, “You should have just sat the whole time!” but I’m happy I tried to do something I wasn’t physically capable of. It’s a question I ask in Pity the Animal and in life: “How much can a body endure?” Sometimes there’s only one way to find out.

What was your favorite poem to write for Night Redacted? Is there any poem you’d like the audience to pay special attention to?

“You’re Not the Only One” was fun for me to write because it was written from joy—an emotion I don’t typically write from. Niina Pollari invited me to read at the release of her book, Dead Horse, and when I read the book, I was so happy because it was so good. I barely knew Niina, but I felt connected to her through her poems, and I wanted to write something I could read to her at the release. I wrote the first line, “I have a dead horse too you know” and the rest just spilled out. I read it aloud for the first time while looking at her, and when it was her turn to read, she read a poem she’d written inspired by my work. That kind of dialogue with someone else’s work is invaluable to me.

What are some poems you’ve been enjoying recently?

Last week I saw Janaka Stucky read for the first time, and his poem, “Recreating a Miraculous Object,” has been echoing in my head since then. I especially love the last few lines: “Treading through the unlatched snow / Here they come / Here they come / Here come my betrayers.”

I’ve also been rereading “Why I Am Not A Good Kisser” by Mary Ruefle, who devastates me every time. I love these lines: “Even if a sailor went to sea in me / To see what he could see in me / And all that he could see in me / Was the bottom of the deep dark sea in me.” And while we’re at it, let’s quote the poem, “Full Moon” as well: “I know someone / who is alive somewhere. / It is embarrassing to be alive.” It really is.

–Interview by Mariam J Nasrullah