Allison Adelle Hedge Coke is the author or editor of 18 books, most recently, Look at This Blue, a 2022 National Book Award finalist. She is a distinguished professor of creative writing at UC Riverside and director of the Medical Health & Humanities designated emphasis at the UCR School of Medicine. Zócalo’s Poetry Curator for October, Hedge Coke chatted with us in the green room about inventing games, the poets on her radar, and her earliest creative memory.
How has the pandemic affected how you think about poetry or write poetry?
I don't know that my thoughts have changed about it. Poetry is always an essential thing. During the pandemic, I created a poetry exercise for everybody, every day, the first year (except for when I got COVID, but I doubled up after and created so that I would have 350 before the time was up). If you go to #poempromptsforthepandemic on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll see them. I thought: This is something I could do at home and offer people because people said they didn't know what to write.
Who are poets you’ve read recently?
Roda Avelar, who just got the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and is a brilliant, brilliant poet. Another poet is Anthony Cody; he's doing brilliant work. There's also Mai Der Vang; Yellow Rain, oh my gosh, was mind-blowing. Fresno is like a kettle of fire for poetry. Those three, and the four [poets I selected for] this month’s curation. Millicent [Borges Accardi] and Brandy [Nālani McDougall], I’ve known for a while. Mary [Leauna Christensen] and Annie [Wenstrup] are newer to me and I’m really blown away by their work.
In an alternative universe where you took a different career path, what would you be doing now?
I've done everything in my life from packing crackers in a factory [to being a] tobacco sharecropper when I was young. I was a commercial fisher. I did construction. I was a collections manager, a lobbyist… There's so many different things that I've done, and I'm really open to things as they come up. I am prone to move into something I've never done before just to try it out if it's interesting to me.
What’s the last thing that made you really laugh?
I was thinking about my grandparents in Canada. My parents didn't drink anything at all, like ever. But my mother's mother had come over from Europe at age 12, I think, to teach school. On rare celebrations, she would pull out Sherry and little tiny cups for adults nearby. My parents did not partake, but aunties and uncles would, and I remembered my cousins, being kids, running through and sneaking those little tiny cups and drinking that sherry. We never did that, but we watched them do it. And for some reason, I thought of that today, and it just made me crack up and laugh. It was just a silly memory of these kids. I still don't think I've ever had it in my life, which is also funny.
What’s a food you crave that you can’t cook?
I love sushi. You don't cook it—though the rice is cooked, I guess, and I have a great rice maker, so I probably could do it. But I don't think I could do it the way that it should be done. I think that that takes quite a bit of skill and craftsmanship. I admire good sushi preparation.
What’s a hobby you'd want to take up if you had more time?
I think game making if I had time, you know, I think that would be a great hobby to pick back up. When my kids were small, we used to invent games constantly. It’s something we do to pass time and I did it with my father and my siblings. I thought of a game the other day, a game called “Spoiler,” where you're watching a film with other writers and, during opening scene, the quickest person to have the solution to the entire film from the opening scene wins.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Ramón Palomares. He has passed, but the last time I saw him, we had a magnificent dinner together. I just adore and love him so much. Brilliant poet from Venezuela, and wonderful, wonderful human being.
What’s your earliest creative memory?
I literally don't remember not being creative. I was a born daydreamer and with that comes a lot of creativity. I had a little garage band as a kid, and I remember writing songs [and using] instruments that were worth, probably, thrift store sales, but in my mind, they were wonderful. And I learned the language, writing, in order to communicate with my sister quietly. She was older than me. And I remember her teaching me the sounds and the letters. She doesn't remember that at all. She remembers that I taught myself to read and write. But the idea was, we would write to each other in an encoded language, and along with using the alphabet, and English, we made up language. We were also prone to singing any time.