Interview with Catherine Abbey Hodges, First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s, September 1, 2023

Interview by: Carla Joy Martin

The back room at Dagny’s was packed at First Friday Open Mic on September 2, 2023.  Catherine Abbey Hodges shared her lovely poetry and then the following folks read during the Open Mic:  Beatrice Boswell, Penny Sheppard, Brit Melson, Heather Ponek, Don Thompson, David Chase, Suzanne Weller, Shelley Evans, Jill Egland, Christopher Robert Craddock, Angel and Portia Choi.

We are especially grateful to Heather Ponek, who agreed at the last moment to help host our event while Carla Joy Martin recovered from COVID.

Catherine Abbey Hodges has some intriguing thoughts to share below, along with two of the poems she read at Open Mic.  Enjoy!

Q.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their back stories?  Please include a copy of your poems.

A.  Call me easy to please, but I find myself inspired by almost everything. To be more specific, though, the natural world, my family, intriguing words and phrases, memories that acquire new meanings and textures over time—all of these can be and have been seeds of poems for me. I called my First Friday reading “Poetry and the Practice of Time Travel” because many of my poems puzzle over and wrestle with time. Below are two that I read that evening. “Child at Sixty” both considers and objects to time’s influence on grief; “Maybe Time Dreams Us” acknowledges how little we understand time and unfolds from there via speculation.


Today I miss my mother,
three years gone.
It’s a version of homesickness,
compounded now by a further loss:
the hot tang of the original sorrow
has cooled, and I find myself
bereft of that too, child at the window,
bewildered, fitful.

Yes, I’ve heard an absence can grow
into its own kind of presence.
But for now, my mother is missing
and I miss her. It’s still mine
to miss her. Time, keep
your hands off what’s mine.



A small green spider has cast
a line from one shore to the other
of my coffee cup while I’ve been
sitting on this rock, and I see I’ve lost
an hour or so of time—
                                       which is what,
really? A set of web-slender hyphens
winking between what just happened
and what’s coming next? Between
flickering scenes and gnawed pencils?
Or is time a seed, barbed, catching
rides on the world’s children: bobcat,
field mouse, wren, old dog?
                                             That dog’s
gone missing, and the boy who loves
her calls and calls, at last sleeps
and dreams of a turquoise river,
a door in a rock. When he wakes
he lies quiet, remembering, slowly,
his life. He swings his feet to the cool
boards, calls again.
                              Maybe time is
the sound his mouth forms. Or time
is the dog, trotting far off, resting
in shaded gullies now the sun’s high,
dreaming of the boy. Maybe time
dreams us. Maybe it’s alright to rest.

Q. Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A. I read a lot of poetry, and I think those of us who write poems should read a great deal more poems than we write. It’s my position that when we write, we’re entering a conversation with all the poems that have been made over time—those that have been written down and those that haven’t. The poet Gregory Orr refers to this metaphysical collection of poems over time as The Book. Orr is on the short list of poets I love, along with Marie Howe, Jane Hirshfield, Ross Gay, Mark Doty, and many others. Of contemporary poets no longer living, I’m perhaps most indebted to Peter Everwine and Stanley Kunitz. All the poets I’ve named here write poems firmly rooted in the grit of being alive in a terrible and beautiful world. In ways unique to each of them, they all tap into a spirituality that transcends religion. I turn to their poems for solace, courage, and lessons in craft.

I want to add that it’s important to me to read beyond my tastes and my comfort zone in order to keep growing, stay current with what’s out there, and discover new loves. Toward that end, I find free subscriptions to poetry emails like Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Poem-a-Day (the latter from extremely helpful and recommend them to my students. I also appreciate and recommend podcasts like The New Yorker Poetry Podcast (two poems each podcast, discussed in depth by poetry editor Kevin Young and a guest poet) and The Slowdown (one poem daily, introduced and read by Major Jackson).

Q. How do you go about composing a poem? Describe your creative process.

A. I’ve found the most important thing is to get out of my own way and stop trying to control the outcome. If I know what I’m going to write about, where it will go, and what it will mean—it’s already a dead poem. My best poems take me by surprise with where they go. They often take a long time, as in many, many revisions. This adds up to years, sometimes. And yet, if I log the time on those long-term, slow-grow poems, every now and then one comes to me as a gift, almost fully formed when it shows up.

So, my advice: let you mind wander. Doodle on the page—with words, sketches, designs. See what happens. Keep a relaxed journal of your thoughts, ideas, concerns, experiences, and look back at it occasionally. When you see an image or a phrase in what you’ve written that interests you, write it at the top of a blank page and then see what happens. Write a favorite line from someone else’s poem (or line from a song or something you overheard) at the top of a page, and see where it takes you. Relax and trust yourself. Let yourself be surprised by what you write. The poet Stephen Dunn said of his process that the moment he surprised himself was when he knew it might be a poem. He’s no longer living, but you are, so now it’s your turn.

Catherine Abbey Hodges