The Crystal Hoffman Interview
What would you say to walking across the country, sleeping on the ground each night, and living off the land, all for the sake of your art? Well, that’s exactly what Crystal Hoffman will be doing for her Poetry Pilgrim Project. Beginning March 25th, she will embark on a 2,550 mile journey where she will write poems for people that she meets along her path after interviewing them. Each poem will reflect that individual’s “hero’s journey” or personal narrative. Then she will type each one (with an Olivetti 32 typewriter) onto slips of card stock, string it with ribbon, and gift it to them. She has been refining this process of participatory composition with her group The Typewriter Girls Poetry Cabaret for the past three years. She will also be composing creative non-fiction essays about her experiences while walking and the process of collecting these individual’s stories, as well as posting writing prompts and transcripts of interviews at www.poetrypilgrim.com. You can help her with her journey by donating to her Kickstarter campaign. We had a chance to interview Crystal about this unique excursion and her inspiration behind it.
This project and your work in general seem to strive to create a new form of creative expression by actually discarding modern conveniences and ideals for what most would consider archaic practices. What is your underlying motive/philosophy to this angle?
I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily trying to invent new forms of creative expression, but rather attempting to revive old ones in a new context. I’m attempting to promote a kind of reawakening of cultural memory in order to assist in its integration and evolution. I’d like to keep the realm of possibility as dense as possible so that connections can be established, reawakened, and called upon easily, rather than going through the learning process again, as it’s often painful. Past technologies, past metaphors, past storylines are still present. They still exist within us and we have the opportunity as observers in the now to manipulate and learn from them within a new framework–kind of like what happens in dreams.
What would you say are the downfalls of modern conveniences for creatives and society as a whole?
A loss of appreciation for the true extremes of existence. A loss of solitude. A loss of appreciation for dark places. A fear of intense connection. A lack of empathy. When you read or write something on the screen you don’t take it into the material realm–drag it out of possibility and onto the page or embody it in your vocal chords. It’s barely even a part of you, so you don’t think about it much. You don’t think about it’s effects. I’m certain that the long term effects of technology will outweigh these losses in the long run. I know lots of people that use it for good, create meaningful connections, etc. I try to do so. I’m just working against the grain because someone has to and it feels right to me. That’s how we get all of those pretty patterns. That’s how we get creation.
What is it about typewriters that draw you to use them? You have the Typewriter Girls Cabaret, and you will be hiking across the country with a typewriter for this project, what do they represent to you?
Hard metal from the guts of the earth; ribbons laid in ink made from the ash of some large animal’s horns or tusks; dozens of arms with instruments to engrave magic symbols. Mostly I know how to fix them and they produce an immediate result that I can lay my hands on, put in my pocket, rip up or put behind glass if I so wish.
If you were to create your own hero’s journey, what would it be about?
It would look a great deal like a poem that my friend Margaret Bashaar wrote once, when I took her on a hike through the forests where I spent fifteen years of my life that was about to be strip-mined. The ribbons were already on the trees, marking which ones were worth taking.
Because We Ran Here With Bare Feet
She is a missionary who spikes trees,
lays her hands on them and cries,
tall like goldenrod, arms extended.
A soft thread that runs through and outside me,
she smells like an apple split down the center.
I wonder what is left of her bones,
what makes her eyes garnet,
if it is the same cedar root
that crawls into my bed at night,
that holds me close, blankets me in leaves.
We walk in grass up to our knees. Sharp from the sun,
it scratches the backs of them. There are fields of it
that spill away. She picks the longest blades she can find,
ties up bundles to dry in her closet,
make tea from in the winter to pour over our hands.
Still steaming, we collect thistles and dead beetles
to put in boxes and drawers with last year’s used corks,
cat whiskers, and typewriter ribbons.
The whole world use to be like this, she says,
wild and rolling away.
I fall belly first onto the rocks, spine like a lizard.
We try to summon Humbaba
and she is barefoot on stone, tells me
how she whispered promises to the cedars,
and I see giants behind the tree line, hard as gunshots.
She is speech, I am mind,
and we look for the body tangled
in treetops or covered in moss
softer than my hair, this mattress,
softer than anything made by man.
I’m using this, because it is the most honest. I don’t think we get to pick our journeys for ourselves. I don’t think that we’re capable of seeing ourselves as a unified story until we reach enlightenment. Others outside of us get to witness our actions, interpret it in context, resolve the contradictions by looking in our eyes and seeing what we’re really feeling, what we’re really trying to say and where we really want to go. That’s one reason that I am going on this walk. I want to be the witness for others.
You mention the need to release our notions of success? What notions should we be releasing and what should we adapt to instead?
The notion that you’re only doing well if your page has four hundred likes on Facebook. The notion that if you’re not making money from your work that you’ve failed. The notion that your creation needs more than one witness ever, in order for it to be worth your making it.
I’d rather see people asking themselves, agonizing rather, over whether or not their creation is honest. We can’t simultaneously be writing or producing work with the aims of receiving a wide audience and producing works which peel away the veil and reveal unity. Unity is terrifying. Living an ego-less state should scare the shit of you. It should confuse you. It should send you into nearly painful ecstasies. And it should never NOT leave a wound. That’s not going to be popular.