By Emma Arnesen
Author and poet Cynthia Marie Hoffman shared her collection of heart-warming and personal stories from her two works, “Sightseer” and “Paper Doll Fetus.” As a recipient of the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Hoffman’s poems delightfully contributed to the eighth annual Fox Cities Book Festival.
On Thursday, April 23, in the Wriston Art Center Galleries, Hoffman presented her pieces to a small, intimate group of eager listeners. Though she was carrying over one hundred poems and lists of ideas to share, Hoffman only read 13 poems at the event that were near and dear to her, personally as well as figuratively.
The first poem, “To the Pigeons,” encompassed her persona writing style through the form of a letter. Inspired as a tourist in Warsaw, Poland, Hoffman used the poem to express her interest in sightseeing and her pastime of talking to her surroundings when no one else is present. As part of the series of her collection of poems in “Sightseer,” “To the Pigeons” reflected her longing for culture and family while in a distant country. She referred to the pigeons as landmarks, stating how they are not stationary in Poland, but seen also in the parks of New York City. Her poem detailed her experiences traveling abroad and her realization that home is not as far away as it may seem.
Although her two noted works, “Sightseer” and “Paper Doll Fetus,” are comprised of similarly-themed short pieces, Hoffman stated that writing a series is a process of layering. She stated that a poet starts with one subject and then, sometimes unknowingly, works through the characters and themes without any intention of repeated verses or images. In a sense, she explained, writing is sometimes unintentional.
One of the many themes that Hoffman explores throughout her writing journey is birth. Along with her particular interest in twilight sleep (amnesia during labor), Hoffman crafted a collection of beautifully written poems about pregnancy and childbirth in her book, “Paper Doll Fetus.” In particular, her poem “The Flower from which Forgetfulness” recounts the amnesic state of a mother during childbirth. Under the heavy spell of forgetfulness, the mother is not able to differentiate between her own body and the nurses in the hospital room. She sees the whimsical earthy surroundings as in a dream, and the “invisible nurses” stand over her. During this experience, Hoffman explained, the mother sometimes is not aware of where the baby comes from, and the twilight sleep is a method of erasing all memories of labor.
In the following poem she read, “According to a Doctor in a Blue Gown, A Window,” Hoffman further elucidated the idea of the baby being the only thing going through the “window.” Hoffman’s letter-writing technique greatly exposes both the perspectives of the character and the audience. As she later added, it is not so much about the first-hand experiences one has, but the human perceptions and different views that reflect the core of one’s own understanding.
While most of the poetry she read was tender and reflective, the topics she discussed were serious and a bit unnerving. From exploring a foreign country on her own to writing about the trials and tribulations of birth and death, Hoffman encompasses the experiences of life, as well as fear of the unknown.
Though she was only able to share a select few poems, Hoffman captivated the audience with her pieces. Her love for writing and exploring new passions is reflected in her works, especially through the different types of poetry she writes. Hoffman engaged the audience in her quest to find new perspectives and outlooks on life.