Alicia Hoffman’s Animal is an extended elegy for a beloved dog and a hurt Earth “where any act is an act/of faith,” but it’s also a celebration of the growth that comes from decay. Hoffman’s gorgeous poems deftly navigate the tightrope between grief and humor, and find their muscular, beating heart in the dailyness of dog walks and seedlings and in paying close attention to what surrounds you, a reminder that “if you want to live, live/in the moment.”
---Sarah Freligh, author of Sad Math
Hoffman’s Animal eschews the abstract for the actual—the animal body where
meaning abides, where “the low braying of us belts out as an unquenchable / urge to
answer the darkness.” Hoffman wields form and music to make her work a concerto
against loss through exaltation of the particular. Attention to “the slight tap of the
milk pail / against the kitten’s raspy tongue” calls the reader to attend, too. Reminded
that we live in a “body made of moments, / memories made physical movements”
we see we must cherish that abode as a shrine in itself. Though the “honey from
bees” may be sweeter than the "magic...in the pages of books," it takes a book like
this to remind us of the sacred real.
--David Ruekberg, author of Hour of the Green Light
A book of longing and quiet panic, Animal by Alicia Hoffman explores the liminal space between intimacy and estrangement. By observing externally and reflecting internally, Hoffman examines how we find, and fail to find, connection and meaning. “I swell into it, the knowledge // of my own loneliness,” she writes, and in that swelling we, too, are embraced.
Hoffman’s intuitive juxtaposition between the poetic impulse to witness and the human desire to be witnessed creates work that is both tragic and comforting. In this age of pandemic-induced isolation, Hoffman not only gives us sensual poems of anxious beauty, she gives us genuine company for which I’m grateful. It is a difficult balancing act pulled off by a poet who knows “to curse and bless and weep // and sing” all belong to “one commotional nest.”
“Whose life is this that charms / honey from bees,” Hoffman asks. "Animal" is here to remind us of course the answer is hers, and mine, and yours, even if the world at times may sting us.
---Michael Schmeltzer, author of Elegy/Elk River and Blood Song
Alicia Hoffman’s poems seduce us with the pleasures of life looked at with awe and wonder. She praises the virtues of awareness of the body and of the home. Her new poems are wonderfully compassionate. In her great title poem, “Railroad Phoenix," she writes an extravagant new poetry in her search for the patterns and connections of the world: “Wolf-dog, / come to me. // Wolf-dog, / know me / now.” This is poetry that could heal a heart, this is poetry that embodies hope, and this is poetry that rewards the restless quest to plumb the stories of our living hours.
—David Biespiel, author of Charming Gardeners
Surprising at every turn, melodic in a sharp register, self-revealing without bathos, Alicia Hoffman’s Railroad Phoenix is inventive in ways far beyond that of so many books. The brilliant long title poem itself employs a host of dazzling tropes as it sustains a headlong desire for understanding the present moment by finding sidelong methods for examining the hidden past. Railroad Phoenix asks to be read with the attention we might give a new piece of music that quickly entrances by enlivening familiar structure with innovative sound.
—Kevin Clark, author of Self-Portrait with Expletives
Light, take us beyond/this ordinary day reads the opening line, and it’s an invitation as much as an invocation. In these mysterious, musical, and compelling poems, Alicia Hoffman makes the reader see differently, makes us rediscover the strangeness of what we know. Ranging from Pennsylvania to Alaska to Costa Rica to Spain, she restores natural magic to the large and ordinary world, where Earth tilts,/blooms sun, where doomed teenage lovers can say, I love you/ like salt. She understands artifice, its necessity and its deceptions, in emotion as well as in art. Her language is itself a wonderful discovery. Like the woman in “Self-Portrait,” She balances marbles – round/ orbs of words – on her tongue and bites. The risk of pain accompanies every pleasure. There are many rewards, such as a sharply tender memory of peeling paint stained skin from her workingman father’s back: like old veneer, the outer/albumen of egg or the riveting mediation on loss, “A Forgotten Song,” which begins with a funeral and ends with survival, the “vertigo of standing,” feet on the Atlantic shore, as the tide comes and recedes/ the sand from underneath like a magician’s table/cloth trick. Voila. Hoffman walks the reader down this dizzying tightrope with her, enticed by visions, refusing to give in to them, persistently pitting literature against its own easy conventions. These poems celebrate the difficult. They trace the complexities of the heart, what could be within what and neither yields: give/praise/for/such/mirac/ulous/enjamb/ment the poet tells us. This is a book of marvelous and hard-won praise.
~ Stan Sanvel Rubin
Hoffman translates our animal presence, the miracle, wonder and husk of it, all that's lifted up in us and all that inevitably falls. These songs become our songs in one commotional nest, her precision quick as the blink of an eye the gift she captures and slows down so we can notice, our humanity spoken back with clarity, and delightfully so at times in the AI voice of Alexa. Hoffman shows us how we recognize ours is a body made of moments//memories made physical movements, and these poems move us. I will play them on repeat and by that discover/what [I] have yet to see.
--Charlie Cote, author of I Play His Red Guitar
When opening Alicia Hoffman's lovely collection, Animal, I was caught hook, line, and sinker by the very first poem "Every Day I Discover Something," This speaker understands. There is always something to uncover. "Every day I discover more ants," she tells us. Like us all, who have been searching, wondering where we come from and what we are doing. Life in Hoffman's collection, Animal, is amazing, but the work is ongoing. "By day, I weed out the dandelions. By night, they rise." In this collection, we are pressed close to nature, on dog walks, with the birds, in the back woods, and near the creeks. We sweep leaves and observe pill bugs, learning how both explain life and love. With these speakers and in these poems, we are battling the technology we create and embrace but are limited by. In "Self-Portrait as Alexa at Dawn," the speaker yearns for connection and for days where "possibilities breathe// like steam fogging the barracks, like horses/ at the gate..." Visceral, sensual, questioning, and deftly written, these poems sing about the earth and all her creatures, those who frolic and move and want more than anything to be fully alive and to love, as the speaker in "How to Open" explains: "How yesterday/ I was ready to give/ it up. How now I am ready to begin." Finely focused on language but bursting with feeling and sensation, this is a wonderful read.
--Jessica Barksdale, author of When We Almost Drowned and Grim Honey.