Today it is my pleasure to sit down and catch up with Erin Kay Hope! Erin used to frequent Bloomings years ago (as a young teen), and has recently returned to us. This gives Walt and I great pleasure! Although the young poetic voice back then blew us all away, maturity and life experience have brought forth an even greater depth of beauty and heart in the words presented to us by this still-young writer.
Okay, Erin, let’s get started!
May I begin by asking what drew you back to our Poetic Boomings site after all these years?
Erin: I actually didn’t realize that y’all had started it up again until very recently. In an insomnia-fueled rummage through old emails (literally going back several years and just reading and re-reading old emails and documents), I ran across an email exchange between myself and Hannah Gosselin discussing a poem that I had posted here. It made me very nostalgic, and I found myself missing the friends I had made here and the sense of community. I had been processing and writing a lot around then and didn’t really have a platform or outlet, other than making my dear patient wife read through pages and long notes on my phone of just any ramblings or poems that found their way out of my head, haha. So I went to find the website again so I could look back on old posts and prompts, and that’s when I discovered that you and Walt had revived PB a couple years back. I think I almost cried I was so excited, my heart was literally tap dancing around in my chest. It’s been really really good to be here and be able to share with and read from other poets again. And I especially missed the care and mentorship that I felt from yourself and Walt when I was a funny little 15-year-old trying to pass myself off as a real poet. It’s very good for my heart and soul to be back here.
Marie Elena: Aww! I love that you mentioned our Sweet Hannah! Hers is another voice we miss!
Well, it is certainly good to have you back. Your presence and talent are such a blessing, Erin. I must say, you have been every bit a “real poet” since your earliest days with us. Back then, one of the life events that often prompted heartfelt, real poems was the tragic early passing of your dear brother, Cameron. Your return here has shown us that he continues to inspire raw, moving poems. The one below, written in March, is one of the most moving poems I’ve ever read.
Visiting the Cemetery at Springtime (or alternately, Garden of Decay)
I laid down next to you in the sunshine
Feeling the heaving of the earth
And wishing I could sink down under the grass and soil
Into the cold ground to sleep with you
Rotting bones and sinew
While insects devour my flesh and brain
At peace and happy in our decay
Underneath the yellow flower halo crown
I brought as some kind of apology for
The years I spent avoiding this place
I found your tombstone overgrown and abandoned
Neglected like the childhood we shared
Or like the emptiness in my chest that I’ve never been able to fill without you
Guilt feels like bile retched from deep inside of me
Caught and burning in the back of my throat
The utter loneliness and despair of this place consumes me
Encircled in a sea of broken dreams
And dried up flowers and haunted longing
I dream of leaving it all behind to follow you.
© Erin Kay Hope, March 2021
Would you mind telling us a bit about this enormous event in your life?
Erin: Losing Cameron has been the biggest heartache of my life. He was my best friend and constant ally. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. To this day, I am unsure what type exactly it was (and I have been unable to discuss with my mom for various reasons). I only know that it involved his lungs and chest and that it was ruthless. We had caught it very, very late, and he was initially given about two months to live. He ended up fighting it for about two years instead, going through intense chemo and radiation treatments, surgery where they actually removed part of one of his lungs, and countless hospital/clinic visits. I went with him to almost every appointment, and I caused a scene the few times I wasn’t allowed/able to go with. He was my buddy, and I needed to be there. I was very little, and I knew he was having a hard time, but there was no way for nine-year-old me to possibly fathom the horrific pain and misery he was in for those two longest of long years. Sometimes when I look back on that time, I can’t help but wish he had died quickly and as painlessly as possible, without having to endure the chemo that literally broke him apart and made him quiet, exhausted, unrecognizable. It is hard to cherish the time spent with him during those two years, knowing that he suffered through every minute. Some nights, I woke up to hear him screaming and my dad trying to comfort him. Those nights I prayed and prayed my little heart out, not exactly knowing if I was praying for him to magically get better or to just be able to stop struggling and be done. He died on April 20, 2008. Complex emotions and feelings followed, of course. It was two weeks before my birthday, and I was initially filled with a lot of resentment and anger for that reason. I was 11, after all. That quickly gave way to a wave of guilt that still hasn’t entirely diminished. It comes and goes, sometimes a very strong surge and sometimes a barely noticeable salty taste. I felt guilty for any time I had ever been upset or angry with him; any time I had been annoyed by the “special treatment” he received from my parents during his illness; and most especially for the fact that I woke up several times the night he died, heard my dad frantic on the phone, heard the loud knock on the front door when EMTs arrived, stayed in bed and somehow fell back asleep, missing entirely the last chance I had to see and hold and say goodbye to him. That’s a lot of weight for an 11-year-old to carry. Probably also the main reason that I have almost no memory of the year that followed his death, other than a few moments of his funeral/memorial service.
Cameron does factor into a lot of my writing. Last year, I did some very good work in actually feeling and processing my grief over losing him, grief that I wasn’t really able or allowed to feel at 11. I had been essentially forced into this place of acceptance where I was never really allowed to properly grieve. Childhood grief that goes untended can absolutely mess with development of good emotion regulation.
I visited his grave for the first time since the day he was buried, and I go back often to bring flowers and talk to him. I wrote some dark dark heartbroken poetry, spent a lot of days and nights unable to move or take care of myself much for the crippling heartache and tears. But what a relief to let out the agony I had been carrying around in my gut for almost 12 years. Poetry has been such a good outlet for me, in so many ways, both writing and reading. Grief still catches me unaware at times, but I am better equipped to deal with it. At this point in my adult life, I believe I have allowed myself the space to work through some of that grief, but I think I will feel the effects forever. I miss him every day.
Marie Elena: The mix of heartache and growth is palpable, Erin. Bless your heart.
Your return to us has also made plainly evident another life event that draws out heartfelt, real poems as well … but on the lighter side of life. These are the tender poems you write about Mia.
There’s a soft and quiet hiding place
In the little hollow between
Your earlobe and the jut of your shoulder
Where all my anxieties go to rest.
I bring them to you, trickling
One by one eased out by careful flowering
Language, or sometimes overflowing from
My cupped hands like a child carrying too many
Marbles: some of them have to find the floor.
Something about the little furrow in
Your brows when you’re thinking (caring) hard
Makes vulnerability easier.
Did you picture us here now with this tenderness
Growing up through bones and skin that first night
In June, in the summer heat and your parents’ house,
When I still kept my jeans on to get in bed with you?
The way your hair smells familiar and
Homey, or how I anticipate the rhythm of your breaths
Before they even move to expand and
Deflate: your lungs and I are old friends.
Our living room is the scene of relearning
Language, and sometimes breaking down
In front of and all over each other like marbles
Spilling out of too-small hands … we’ve become
Very good at picking them all back up again
© Erin Kay Hope, February 2021
This poem overflows with original thoughts and superb phrasing that I can only dream of writing. *sigh* These two poems I’ve shared are examples of what draws me to poetry. Honestly though, I’m not sure I can fully describe what, for me, makes an excellent poem. What do you think makes good poetry?
Erin: This is a great (and difficult!) question. I’ve discussed a little about the difficulties I have with understanding and perceiving emotions, my own or others. I think that poetry is honestly one of the only ways I have found where I can really dissect and name and examine complex feelings. When writing, I can often come to realizations about why I was upset about something before or why someone said/did something the way that they did that I wasn’t able to understand before. When reading, I get a semblance of what it is like to feel things as another person, and that is invaluable to me since I can’t always understand it at other times. It’s like the part of my brain where emotions are processed is typically locked, and poetry is something of a key to get in and do some cleaning and organizing. Poetry that stays with me is poetry that has made me FEEL, in a very literal sense of the word. It’s hard to describe exactly what elements are needed for that to happen, it’s all very relative. But I know it when I see (feel) it. One of my favorite pieces of all time is “Box” by Ebony Stewart. She does spoken word performance. She is entertaining and raw and real, and this piece is an example of something that caught me by the heart and forced me to listen/feel/understand.
Marie Elena: Great response. And I, like you, “know it when I see (feel) it.”
Your poems fascinated me from the time you were in your mid-teens, through present. Yet, as I indicated above, I see an evolution. Was that intentional? Or did it just happen naturally? If intentional, how did you go about it?
Erin: Another fantastic question. This is somewhat reminiscent of the “nature vs. nurture” debate in psychology: You can’t discuss one without the other, it is the interaction of the two that is important. The evolution of my writing was a necessary chain reaction that began with me truly beginning to look inside and understand and accept myself for who I am. My writing from my first stint at Poetic Bloomings was a very very small rebellion, a piece of myself that I refused to allow to be swallowed by the dogma I was surrounded with, but that I had to camouflage to keep safe. I wrote like someone who has a manacle on their wrist with a very short chain that jerked me to a stop if I tried to go too far. I couldn’t quite put all of what I felt into words because I had to show everything I wrote to my mom and my dad, and sometimes their pastor, to make sure nothing too freethinking was slipping in before I could share it to PB or be allowed to keep it. A child security lock of sorts. I snuck a few more real pieces past them every now and then, but I was too scared to do it often. Once I left and began to evolve as a person, my writing necessarily evolved with me. It was both natural and intentional, I think.
Marie Elena: That makes perfect sense to me.
Switching gears a bit, what plans do you have for your future that might take us by surprise?
Erin: My wife and I have big dreams of moving to Germany someday.
Marie Elena: Oh, cool! What attracts you and Mia to Germany?
Erin: Initially, the attraction for me lay very much in the fact that Germany is essentially the birthplace of modern psychological theory, and I am a huge nerd lol. But we are also excited about living in the country, near the Alps, in a quiet cottage or farm. We want to raise a family there, and the country’s policies on universal healthcare, sustainability, and equality are very much in line with our own beliefs and values.
Marie Elena: A quiet cottage near the Alps sounds idyllic to me. May I also ask, what are some of your own beliefs and values?
Erin: Human rights and mental health advocacy absolutely. I have struggled with a variety of diagnoses and mental health issues, and I know what it’s like to not be believed or valued or adequately cared for, so I am very big on doing what I can to help people, especially LGBTQ+ kids/youth, to not have to go through similar experiences. My goal for a long time has been to one day create an organization for free housing/rehabilitating/medical care for LGBTQ+ youth.
Marie Elena: What a kind, soft heart you have.
Erin: Thank you! I do my best. I struggle with empathy and understanding other people’s feelings/intentions/what have you, so I try to push myself to be proactive in seeking out ways to actually show compassion and understanding with my actions and words. I am working on getting an autism diagnosis (health insurance and psychiatrist services are expensive and oftentimes very wary in diagnosing neurodivergence in women, so that journey will be a long struggle), as a way to help me understand my own brain a little better. It definitely makes me want to be able to provide accessible support for other people who may be struggling.
Marie Elena: This also seems in line with your career path.
Erin: My career is still very much in the works. I’ve been working full time to put myself through school, and I just finished up my bachelor’s degree in psychology in March and will be starting my master’s program in July. After that, I plan on obtaining licensure as a marriage and family therapist or a certified behavior analyst. I really just want to get out there and start working in the psychological field and see what I can do. Eventually, I want to do some research and get my PhD, but that is a long way down the line.
Marie Elena: Following the “beliefs and values” question, do you consider yourself a person of faith? If so, is it something you hold as very private, or are you open about it?
Erin: I consider myself, when I really consider it, an agnostic. I think there probably is a higher power out there, but I don’t necessarily conform to any religion’s idea of a god. I tend to believe a lot more in science and the physical world around me, but I also don’t want to close myself off to the spiritual. It’s a tricky balance that I haven’t quite got right and might never fully understand. It’s taken me a while to get to the place where I can even acknowledge the possibility of spiritual or divine existence, as there is a lot of religious abuse and trauma from my childhood that have made me a bit of a skeptic.
Marie Elena: Erin, this breaks my heart. I think it is far too often the case … the religious abuse and trauma, I mean … and it turns people away from the One I believe with everything in me created all, is the author of science and holds it in His hand, and loves us more than we could ever imagine. I’ve often said that if I wasn’t a Christian, I wouldn’t see much in Christian people that would make me want to turn to Christ. How sad is that. I’m so very sorry for these horrible experiences, and I just pray Jesus will re-introduce Himself to you and you won’t be able to resist His true love.
Erin: That is an interesting statement to hear from someone who is a Christian, but definitely one that I agree with. I have met very few followers of Christianity that seem to actually follow Jesus’ doctrine of loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor and the refugee, just overall being a good person without the performativeness and exclusion. My own parents are part of a “Christian” group that is essentially a cult. People in that community have little to no access to the outside world, and once you express disagreement or leave, you are essentially excommunicated. I rarely see or hear from my parents or siblings. They hold the belief that they are the only people who are truly following god and teaching his correct word. Even other Christians are wrong in their book. All the children are homeschooled (I had never set foot in a real classroom until my first class at community college in 2016), higher education is seen as sinful (especially for women), and secular media of any kind is prohibited. To this day, I feel like somewhat of an alien who doesn’t ever fully understand pop culture references or recognize a lot of well-known songs/movies/stories. I didn’t have access to the internet or my own cell phone until I was almost 18. People also never really seem to fully believe or understand when I talk about having a cultic background either. I think people tend to view cults as things of the past, or believe that they have to involve some major tragic event like a mass suicide/murder to really cause an impact. I feel the impact every day, though. In that group, they practice arranged marriages, exclusively among members of the cult and as something of a “reward” for submission and total loyalty to the group. Women are expected to move straight from their dad’s house to their husband’s and immediately start trying for children, as many as possible. Contraceptives are not used or allowed. My own mom gave birth to nine children, a feat that ripped apart her reproductive system and has led to numerous health problems. This was seen as her duty, though, and was basically unavoidable given the circumstances. I wanted none of that, and from the time that I lost my brother, I knew there was something wrong with the doctrine that they were selling. To add to that, I’m gay, something that I started to realize at around 13 or 14 and that nearly killed me. They are fanatically opposed in that community to people being gay, and I was terrified about what would happen if they ever somehow found out. I felt so much shame and disgust and fear and had no one to speak to about it. I spent my teen years miserable, harming myself, wishing I could just die rather than grow up to be forced into a marriage with some man I hardly knew to be his housewife and have his children. It poisoned me against the very idea of being a mother someday, and it poisoned me against being able to believe in the Christian god. I spent a long time telling myself that I didn’t want kids because I didn’t want to fulfill that role they had assigned to me with my name and gender at birth. Eventually, though, I found self acceptance and peace and the knowledge that I really do love children and want some of my own, and that I can have all of those things as my own choice and in my own time. Mia and I have plans and dreams for our future children and are excited to raise compassionate and caring little humans someday.
That was quite the monologue there, but I do feel that a glimpse into that background is essential for an understanding of my hesitancy to be part of a religious organization and for really getting a lot of what I write. My poems are very often fueled by the anger that I sometimes can’t help feeling about it all, or by the sense of loss I feel for a warped childhood and a neglected adolescence. Once again, I think poetry is a powerful weapon and outlet for me.
Marie Elena: If it is a weapon, it is one you expertly wield.
As our time comes to a close: If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want it to be?
Erin: I am someone who works extremely hard in everything that I do. I’ve put myself through college, working full time the entire time, and will be paying my way through graduate school soon. I am determined, and I am proud of where I am now, especially given the very rough start I had. I value hard work and perseverance, but I also would love to see more value placed on asking for/receiving help, on making things easier for future generations than they have been in the past or present, on creating a world where everyone has access to food, shelter, choice, medical care, good education, etc. (coinciding pretty heavily with life, liberty, pursuit of happiness). My career choice and future plans are all about trying to create those kinds of opportunities, and I love to have conversations about it.
Marie Elena: Well, I sure have loved having this conversation with you, Erin. Thank you for being open, and for touching on hard topics. Walt and I will look forward to walks along our Garden path with you for many years to come. Welcome “home.”