Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s new book, “Look at This Blue,” is set to release on March 29 by Coffee House Press. Throught Hedge Cokes’s personal lens, the collection of poems captures California’s ecological, environmental, and human beauty. But it also speaks of the degradation to the environment, the animal kingdom, and humanity.
“This book is over 40 years of experience living in California. It is a beloved place for all of us here, the beauty is boundless,” said Hedge Coke, a distinguished professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. “At the same time, it was integral for me to speak about the massive amount of genocide to its original peoples, the horror it, and the lack of accountability. I love California and I want to hold it accountable.”
The poems are a cry, a mourning, a lament. They represent 40-plus years of Hedge Coke’s on-and-off life in California: a rape; domestic violence; destroyed lands; extinct critters; her examinations of the extermination of early California residents; her mother’s schizophrenia; retraining from the hard years of toiling agriculture fields since she was a child; the pollution; Donald Trump.
“This book was a great purging for me. I wasn’t sleeping, I was just writing,” said Hedge Coke, who most recently served as director for UC Riverside’s 45th annual Writers Week, California’s longest-running free literary event. “Like many artists, I have several book projects at once and I thought, ‘What seems more important, more urgent to me at this point?’ This book is made up of different types of manifestations. My voice mainly comes from my parents, from other people that I know and love. It’s about the hardships I was in… it includes lots of violence against women, children, and people at the border, my own sexual abuse and domestic violence, and that of other women.”
Hedge Coke’s work is recognized all over the world. This week she became a Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) Scholar, which will take her on a summer residency with Disquiet: International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. She is also the current California Arts Council Legacy Artist Fellow and George Garret Awardee (AWP) and will hold the UCR Dean's Mellon Professorship in 2022-2023 at the Center for Ideas in Society.
In “Look at This Blue,” some excerpts name once luscious extinct trees, vibrant yellow and purple flowers, animal life, and land. One section, with a first line of “How many massacres?” lists 32 massacres in California — likely the type of events excluded from the state’s K-12 history books.
Toward the end of the book Hedge Coke includes a cited works section, sponsored by the Center for Ideas and Society’s Inequities in Health Faculty Commons group, so that readers can learn more about the history and topics she discusses in the poems.
Weaved into these California histories is her own life. From 1980 — the year she first arrived in San Francisco from North Carolina, running from an abusive partner who would eventually send her to hospital nine times — to her late 20s, the poems capture the essence from when she toiled as a farm worker, landscaper, horse breaker, and carpenter, among other jobs.
She then joined the Ventura County’s Field Worker Retraining Program. At that point, Hedge Coke’s education consisted of a GED and real-life work experience, much of it provided by her father, an analytical chemist and former fieldworker himself.
In Ventura she taught at Ventura High School, then the city hired her as a historical interpreter and trained her as the historical collections’ manager.
“The ecological impact here is the same as in other places. We have to talk about it, we have to acknowledge it,” said Hedge Coke, who is also affiliated with UCR’s School of Medicine and the new department of Environment, Sustainability, and Health Equity. “For the trauma here, for my family who relocated here, a safe place. We are all part of that nature’s web. What can we do to be healthier and be more helpful….be more capable as human beings to coexist with nature?”
Hedge Coke closes the book with intentional lyrics to pose a personal, rhetorical question, from one of Palm Desert’s greatest folk/rock/jazz/pop icons:
“Will you take me as I am?
Taking “Look at This Blue” on tour
Larksong Writers Place — 30 Poets in 30 Days hosted by Karen Shoemaker
In honor of National Poetry Month, subscribers can opt to have poetry delivered to their inbox once a day throughout the month of April. Recorded readings are included.
Sign up: Larksong Writers Place
Time: 11 a.m.- noon, PST — VIRTUAL
Event: Hot off the Presses: UC Riverside Center for Ideas and Society. Reading/talk by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, interviewed by UCR Associate Professor of English Michelle Raheja
Time: 6-8 p.m., PST — IN PERSON
Riverside Public Library – Inlandia Institute
3900 Mission Inn Ave. in Riverside
Details: Inlandia Institute
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m., PST — IN PERSON
Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore
3036 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Time: 6 p.m., PST, 9 p.m. EST — HYBRID
Ventura County Poetry Project; EP Foster Library, 651 E. Main Street in Ventura, Calif.
Details: Ventura County Poetry Project- Facebook
Time: 11 a.m., PST — VIRTUAL
Cal State East Bay
Reading and conversation, hosted by Trinie Dalton, assistant professor with the Department of English/Creative Writing
Details: Cal State East Bay
Time: 1:40 p.m. — IN PERSON
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Poetry Stage
University of Southern California, in the University Park neighborhood, downtown L.A.
Details: Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
Time: 6 p.m., PST — VIRTUAL
Eastern Oregon University's webinar series, Ars Poetica. A reading and conversation, hosted by MFA faculty Abigail Chabitnoy
Details: EOU Ars Poetica
Cellar Door Books — IN PERSON
5225 Canyon Crest Dr #30a, Riverside, CA 92507
Details pending: Cellar Door Books
Time: 6:30-8 p.m., CST — VIRTUAL
Voces de Luna: Allison Adelle Hedge Coke writing/teaching masterclass series “Creativity and the Nueva Consciencia,” a nod to Gloria Anzaldúa and the social change she inspires. Hosted by author and poet Natalia Treviño.
Details: Registration link pending
Praise for “Look at This Blue”
“What Hedge Coke provides readers in the pages that follow is the lightning rod. Her long poem slips in and out of images of violence against the land, specifically California, the flora and fauna and many immigrants and indigenous peoples of that land, the poor and cast out and overlooked and neglected and abused of that land, ever aware of the undercurrents that connect each transgression. While I’ve grown suspicious that one can give voice to the voiceless without doing further violence, these lines are not acts of ventriloquism, nor even quiet moments of witnessing. These are the aftershocks of the violences we as a nation would not see, haunting the periphery until there is nowhere we can look without being made at last to see. But in this litany of those who have been lost and those who are at risk, so too there is an act of preservation, a summons, and offering. If not promise, then a charge, a spark, to move us along. This book is like nothing I’ve seen from Hedge Coke before. It was just what I needed to read right now.” —Abigail Chabitnoy, Orion Magazine
“Holding this book in your hand, you catch the scent of high desert salvia and a whiff of charred ancient forests. Pyrocumulus loom over this text, an assemblage in the vein of Juan Felipe Herrera and C. D. Wright, etched in chants of forewarning and loss. Hedge Coke’s reckoning with the genocide of the Indigenous and the mass extinction of endemic species bares the roots of conflagration throughout ‘Indian Country, California, every bit.’ Look at This Blue is itself a blue flame that comes to us in time.” —Sesshu Foster
“Here is a lifetime, relentless, inviting us bravely to sit in a circle facing the fire, speaking. Allison’s new collection covers her poetic depth and practice: travels, research, vision and visions, her wide wingspan—saving the people, the planet, and creatures. It is timely as all her books have been through the decades. Yet, the approach is radical, experimental. She meditates and dances through the trails of the text. Love and suffering, document and lyrical flight, human core and cosmic interrelationship, woman’s body and explosive mind. A prizewinner all the way. A warm, true heart.” —Juan Felipe Herrera
“Song from both above and within a texture of bad change, imbued with beauty, being in and of nature. This language, these careful lines, implicates us all as bits of process of extinction, violent—humans, together with the Xerces blue butterfly and California’s so many other spectacular species, lovingly named. Voices, vegetation, animals, human recall and event, like scratchings or petroglyphs. Who’s speaking? The record. A gorgeous, scary poem.” —Alice Notley
“How blue are you? Xerces-butterfly blue, coyote-eye blue, lake blue, Mission blue: this is the blue of beauty and the blue of grief. Look at This Blue is a necessary reckoning with the ongoing, disastrous, criminal genocide perpetuated in the Golden State, amongst the beauty and riches of its landscape. As Hedge Coke writes, the poem is ‘the offering we make.’” —Eleni Sikelianos