In her collection of poetry, Streaming, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke brings nature and our sensory experiences together in order to create a rich collection that speaks to our experiences with the world. The book welcomes the reader to engage with it, to think about and consider the meanings behind Hedge Coke’s beautiful and lyrical writing—so beautiful that many times it feels as if the poems are singing. Reflecting more on nature and the body, Hedge Coke discusses different aspects of how we experience the world.
Chelsey Clammer: Right from the start of the book, your poems point to and look at how our different senses and connections to both nature and our bodies brings us more into the world. As a reader, this facet of your writing brought me more into your poetry. How do you see the body fitting into your poetry?
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke: Thank you, Chelsey. The body may be all that remains with us, throughout our lives. Everything else is ephemeral, somewhat, right? Even parts of the body might not make it the full run. For me, I feel comfortable in my own skin, like it or not, I deal with it. So, oftentimes, people I have never met approach me and ask directions, tell me their troubles, ask me to make choices for them. The appearance of authority is perhaps made by self-comfort. It brings other people to rely on the person who they believe is set, true, or not.
To be comfortable with the skin we wear, with the structure we are given to move with, to limbs and digits we operate with, is essential to allow us to feel our way in the world, as well as to perceive beyond ourselves; insignificant, maybe, but a portion of the whole all the same. Our sense of the world is tangibly fulfilled, by the body we bring with us, to indulge with and to build our unique sense of perception, and, in some ways, each of our bodies may be similar to individual cells in the body of the world we live within. We are sensual creatures; sensory device is essential to our sense of beingness, or humanness. This same sensuality is necessary to bridge our understanding of empathy, , of knowing, and within these fields of some sense of being, our world exists within us, outside of us, before us, ahead of us, with us, and despite us. Our place within the world depends on our understanding of its immenseness and our smallness within and upon it.
We are within the atmosphere of the world, always. Unless we venture beyond, and then what happens? We look back to it to understand the body of the world we call home from the universe, or multiverses, beyond this portion. We are like the minute cells, and the world is like the larger organism that is in the increasing and ever expanding space we exist within. Where does that take us? Back to the cells we work with, then their interaction with everything else – our own sensory devices, sensual awareness.
How lucky is that?
By motivating those connections, in a strategic manner, we begin to interact intentionally with our world. This is the beginning of active presence, of song, of dance, of the rituals of living. I find this necessary and fascinating. This also brings us to conversations of embodied or disembodied poetics, innovations, explorations with our own sets of knowns and unknowns in the field, in our worlds, and in the nature of our work, our attempts and gestures in poetry.
CC: Nature, of course, is a key part to Streaming. At times it feels as if the poems themselves are leading the reader through time and nature, which encourages the reader to consider her own relationship with nature. And so, in a way, the poetry is creating new perspectives on how nature is woven into a person’s life. What does this look like for you in your own life? How does nature weave into your identity as a person?
AAHC: We are all creatures of nature. We are all in currents of temporal sway. How can we be/exist otherwise? An investigation of our relationship(s) with nature is something I am extremely interested in and often inspired by. Nature is a most simple thing and yet extremely diverse and rich with magnificent complexity. How do we fit within it? We learn to be human, mostly, from our engagement and understanding of our occupation or range within a distinct place and time and yet our synchronization with these junctures challenge us as a species perhaps more than many of our counterparts, as we constantly question it. Why?
And how is time something more than what leads us and marks our experiences? How we engage with time and with our familiarity of its ebb and flow, of its peculiarities, perhaps motivates us to seek to define its parameters and push them or to find some sense of comfort without our perception of it, right or wrong. Understanding the wrinkles, echoes, the motion of it, might give us the ability to more deeply conceive of how prophesy, how intuitiveness, how hunches work, or what gives nature its meaningfulness, for that matter. If, as my dad told us as children, we manage to do something phenomenal in this very moment, the impact of that is so great it courses throughout the fabric of time. That impression could then cause the idea to present in someone receptive on either side of the temporal flow. Insomuch a dream, a thought, a notion, a story, a moment of brilliance could then enlighten, so the person behind us (in time) who perhaps now receives a bit of clarity on what is to come, before it happens, in their time, while we impress away in ours, and on so. In our movement in time, our choices, our strategies, our approaches give us, perhaps, some malleable platforms with which to do significant work, if we choose to. I think that the closer we are, and the more comfortable we are with nature, and with our own natures, the closer we may come to delivering those possibilities as they present and are presented to us. I hope to seize some of the opportunity in the days and nights I meet and in the poetry and work that I commit to. In Streaming, I hope to build on those relationships and present some of the features of physics of these junctures and of our movement through them.
CC: Each poem in Streaming is enlivened by the imagery you create. In “She Shakes Chilies from Her Hair,” for example, you write, “She shakes red chilies from her hair, / wax black with slight red strands, thick enough / to stand, hold spicy seasoning until we fall.” The detail in just this snippet of one poem is powerful and rich with imagery, and really brings this person and what she represents to life. When you are writing, how do you incorporate images you have witnessed in life with ones you might be imagining? Do you see poetry as a place where “real” sights integrate with imagination? And how do you approach writing in such a way that it inevitably evokes these powerful and memorable images?
AAHC: Thank you for the kind words in all of this. The first two questions here seem to coincide for me. The integration is there upon witnessing and the composition is the attempt to capture the fleeting associations of image and to engage them in a way that also encapsulates the intention behind the perception of gesture. Here, in the flavored relationship of spicy and pungent swipes and in loosening of rista chili from random swings of passing heavy hair and that particular moment of surprise, in the mix of relationship, sisterhood, of memory, and of beauty called to mind in the moment passing – mesmerizing.
CC: The language and pace you use in each poem is rich and delectable. Your poetry brings more than meaning to the reader, but a gorgeous and rhythmic sound rings through it as well. Lines like “Carcass kindled like a rucksack / jerky-filled snack for Crow & Beetle,” and “The Pendleton shroud bearing our braids, / her figure in flaming pyre,” are full of life because of the melody and beat you bring to them. How do you think sound plays a part not just in poetry in general, but in poetry that is about nature?
AAHC: Great question. I was taught, musically, very young and think in it, to a large degree. It is, perhaps, how I also perceive nature. Hopefully, like nature, poetry contains strategic placement of sound, and silence, so that cadence, rhythm, beat, all become intrinsic to form and to departures from form in improvisational leaps and bridges bound only by the reach of the poet and/or natural force. It seems to me that we move within nature, learn to do anything we do, we fulfill some form of notion of rhythm. Our songs surely come from our experiences in movement, motion, in work, in action, in connecting to and colliding with the tensions and challenges within our own living and our imagined sense of it, of what is beyond it. Everything, or most everything, has a sense of coordination or discord. Cultures perceive sound and the structure of it based in lingual and physical notions natural to, or suited to, geographic and spatial locations and our emic/etic navigations through the often-encoded realms of being. Rain falls with rhythm, water moves with it, birds move within already motion-filled thermals and deliver dances and songs to the listener, while the thumping rabbit keeps his own time, and on so and such is life. The orchestration of it is a huge composition, always improvisational and yet steady, too. How we intersect with it depends upon our own awarenesses and our willingness to engage.
The music of life is abundant. Poems that explore musicality perhaps give us the poet’s performance of witnessing in nature, or moreover perhaps give us the poet’s composition of the sense of the sense of it, or what it entails, demands to be engaged with. Nature demands the most of us, in engagement. Her vastness and sheer delivery, her forcefulness and gentleness all call upon us to reckon with ourselves to be with her. All of it in sound, inextricable, inescapable, unless, of course, we fool ourselves to believe that we can. We cannot.
CC: What are you working on now?
AAHC: More poems, more songs, new stories, old memories, a film – In this exact moment, I am preparing for wherever I can do the best work and make use of myself, whatever that is. The most I want of life is to be useful within it and not so much of a drain upon it.
CC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
AAHC: The book comes with a full (free) digital download to the album of the same title with Rd Klā. The exemplary musicians, Kelvyn Bell and Laura Ortman are stunningly amazing and not to miss. I hope that in reading the collection, in hearing the accompanying album, readers can move into the range of the work with the freedom to give into it and experience the whole of it. This book is meant to be fully engaged with, cover-to-cover, as a unified experience, much as one might enjoy while attending a concert. It is shaped as an orchestration and the whole of it conceived for a journey, of sorts.
Like all of us, I hope the poems take the reader out of their own element, familiarity, and deliver the reader into new elements that they become familiar with, through the reading, as well. The book deals with change and change is a huge principle in all of my work, insomuch, I also hope the book brings us some sense of need to change, to protect what we have as humans enjoying this place, pace/time, on this planet now so endangered. The book brings poems to provoke understanding, along a journey through the everyday richness of life. The sense of our labors and work are a good portion of the book, multigenerational, familial and well as within travel and extended journey. Then, coupled with climate change devastation, with a sense of the beauty of nature, the horror of natural tragedy, often further compounded with human impression leaves us facing need for growth and the indictment on our kind, yet closes with a temporal sustaining natural balance, a place for the reader to retreat within, to rethink, reconsider, and hopefully go back for another round of reading through for more details of intention, device, openings, departures, portals, surprise. When it gets down to it, the human condition demands we care-take and support our planet and face our challenges and responsibilities of better treatment of one another, as well as of our sisters in the animal and plant worlds. I hope it is meaningful.
“Streaming, is an elegant collaboration between poetry and music.”—Hawaii Review
“Each poem has its own rhythm that meshes into that of the collection overall, a body greater than the sum of its parts, an organism alive with language.”—AskMen
“Her poems beg to be read aloud, a jumble of hard sounds that wind their way into an effortless melody. . . Streaming is truly an accomplishment.”—Summerset Review
“When a book of poems contains the pleasure and adventure of a fine soundtrack it should be loudly celebrated. There are many ways to listen to Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s fine collection Streaming. The thing of it is, whether still on the page, or with an undercurrent of musicians and voice, the lyrics ring true. The poem always wins.”– Cornelius Eady, Miller Family Chair, The University of Missouri
“If the history of the Americas is a body of stories, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Streaming is most definitely its life-blood. This glorious book journeys through the bittersweet relationships between personhood and nation, nationhood and nature, and nature and culture, bearing witness to each entity’s determined struggle, each entity’s hard-won triumph: “colonization,/ construction, that morning, this day,/ every beam in balance despite horror /in the world. Streaming’s elegant verse will “sing you home into yourself and back to reason.” — Rigoberto Gonzalez
You can purchase Streaming HERE from Coffee House Press. Throughout 2015, book purchasers will find (across from the title page) a free download to the accompanying album, also titled Streaming, with Hedge Coke’s band Rd Klā. The band features Hedge Coke (poems/vocals) and two superior composer/musicians, Kelvyn Bell (guitars/sound art) and Laura Ortman (violins/sound art).
Streaming is a part of the Eckleburg Book Club. Take a look at it HERE.
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke books include: (poetry) Streaming (CD/book), Off-Season City Pipe, Dog Road Woman, Blood Run, (nonfiction) her memoir, Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer, of growing up as a mixed-raced laborer, and as second daughter of a mother suffering from chronic schizophrenia, and Icicles (play), and her edited collections of groundbreaking western hemispheric anthologies including multiple Indigenous languages and poetics in Effigies, Effigies II, and Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas. She is Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and is currently in-production with a documentary film, Red Dust.
Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, and The Nervous Breakdown among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, is forthcoming from Hopewell Publishers, 2015 www.chelseyclammer.com.