Alicia Hokanson/Grand prize winner/interview

The author of Perishable World – Grand Prize on Eyelands Book Awards 2021 – ”talks” about her writing career and future plans and also about her memories from Greece

How does it feel to be the grand prize winner of an international book contest?     It’s just thrilling.  I am so pleased that the judges selected my book for this honor.  It is gratifying to know that readers from other parts of the world might find sustenance in my poems.

How did you hear about the contest?

     Afriend and fellow poet told me about it.

How do you feel about the idea you will be the judge for the books of your category (poetry) on Eyelands Books Awards 2022?

     What an enriching opportunity to read a variety of poets whose work I would not otherwise know.  I look forward to it.  

When did you start writing?

     I started writing poems as a very young child, but it was really in high school and college when a series of wonderful teachers helped me appreciate the power of poetry to express the joy, grief, and wonder of being human. 

     I always loved books and knew that they would be central to my life.  I was an English literature major in college at the University of Washington, and also received my Masters degree in English, with an emphasis on creative writing.

     When I started teaching in secondary schools, I was passionate about helping my students develop their writing abilities, and teaching poetry was a natural connection between my experience and theirs.   Despite the demands of teaching and working to make a living, I always stayed involved in poetry and in the writing community in my area.  Summer writing conferences helped me learn more about the craft of writing and enlarge my circle of companions in the art.  

You wrote a brilliant book. What was the inspiration?

     The book had gone through many, many revisions over several years, but I think it was the poems I wrote through the illness and death of my parents and then my husband that showed me what the arc of the book was.  “Perishable World” was a phrase that caught my attention two years ago, when I was reading the Chinese poet Shi-Wu.  I had finally found a title that spoke to the themes I was exploring around the beauty and fragility of the natural environment and human relationships.  Having so much time at home during the pandemic, undistracted by social demands, I was able to really sink into the work of pulling the book together.  So that was an unexpected gift of being in lockdown. 

What are your plans as a writer for the future?

     To continue to pay close attention to the natural world, to the human world, and to keep trying to write the next poem.

In this fraught time, it is crucial to record what it feels like to live  alongside other species on a planet in peril.  For me, poetry is always a vehicle for exploring the soul’s journey and awakening a deeper consciousness.

Have you ever been in Greece?

     Yes.  I fell in love with Greece when I first visited during college.  I explored Athens and spent a week on the island of Hydra.  Of all the countries I saw in Europe, Greece was my favorite.  I returned several years later and spent a few weeks on the island of Kos.

     Also, having taught Homer’s Odyssey for many years to my students, I feel that the whole literary legacy of Greece lives deeply in my mind and soul:  the wealth of the mythological world!

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A native of Seattle, Washington, Alicia Hokanson grew up exploring the beaches, forests, and islands of Puget Sound, which inspired a deep attention to the natural world.

 Her first book, Mapping the Distance, was selected by Carolyn Kizer for the King County Arts Commission publication prize.  She has also published two chapbooks, Phosphorous and Insistent in the Skin, and her poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals and anthologies.  Her most recent collection, Perishable World, was published in summer of 2021.  Upon completing her B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of Washington, Alicia pursued a career teaching in a variety of venues, from working with high-school students in South Australia to teaching grades 1-8 in a one-room schoolhouse on a remote island in Washington state. She spent the last 27 years of her career teaching middle school English in Seattle,  and was named River of Words Poetry Teacher of the year in 2003 for her work nurturing young writers.  She now devotes her time to writing, reading, and advocating for social and environmental justice.

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