Hillary Adler (née, Ferguson) is a New York City-based poet and journalist. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and is a co-founder of the journal Politics and Poems. She writes for the Huffington Post, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, Public Pool, Metropolitan Magazine, Poet's Country, Lamprophonic, Roanoke Review, Open Thought Vortext, and elsewhere. She is currently working with photojournalist Emilie Richardson on a series of narrative interviews with Syrian refugee women and children.
Mary Crockett Hill interviews Hillary Adler about using life as poetic inspiration and more.
Your poems, I've noticed, often draw on your own life in quite raw and unexpected ways, and I was wondering if we could start with you talking a little bit about how you approach processing your own life experiences through the lens of poetry.
That's a really interesting question and sometimes I don't know how to answer it. I think usually I am writing in the immediacy trying to process the fragments of my life, trying to process what goes on around me. I am wary of saying that I go to the page for therapy because I don't find writing to be in any way therapeutic, but it does help me understand my place or position in the place I find myself in.
If not therapeutic, then what is it?
It's analytical. It gives me a realtime analysis of my life in a way where I can step back and look in from the outside.
When you started at the New School, you actually enrolled in the fiction program, but lately you have been writing poetry almost exclusively. Can you talk a little about that transition and how it took place? Why poetry as opposed to fiction, why now?
When I was here [at Roanoke] doing seminar, I wrote a poem and read it in class and Melanie Almeder looked at me and said, "I think you're going to be a poet" and at that point I was already ready to go to grad school for fiction and in my head I am thinking "Ha! No" But certain life experiences happened to be and fiction stopped making sense as a place to go to the page.
Hillary Adler reads from her work...
I’ve spent the last year bloodletting
letting the blood fall watching our
investments trickle out of me
earlier you said what the fuck
is wrong with you & forgot
today was the due date
it was & the dog broke open
the fridge while we were out she
ate all the groceries & I cried again
spent really the whole day crying
only stopped after two bottles of wine
they line the outside of the bedroom
(i.e. Howard Hughes) you have
to come out, Keri said, no really,
she said, you’re killing yourself
& Kirsten: sometimes we should just
let our emotions play out
wtf I wanted to say play out?
I’m not a football team
working the two minute drill
though it feels like the last two
of my life can’t imagine moving
or going anywhere so hard
to be see do anything because
three times I should have been a mother
instead I’m nobody to none & you said
what the fuck is wrong with you
You were just a baby just four years old with
ninja turtle tattoos on your cheeks & a pink polo
it’s the background on my computer
an image of the child I imagined we would have
but didn’t he was such a happy kid your mom said
while we watched you from the corner of the room
your body immobile tubes running up & down the gown
barely covering the parts of you only I know best
once it slipped when your cock got hard
your mom ducked her head & visored her eyes
the nurse said it’s normal with men she said it happens
all the time & reached to cover you up but I reached ahead
didn’t want her hands touching you there she’s hott at least
hotter than me which I know is stupid to think about
when the bag you bought wasn’t what it was supposed to be
how could it be you bought it on the street after three years clean
I found you sitting on the toilet hunched over eyes closed arms limp
shower running a needle sticking from your vein & you were gone five minutes
only five you said what the fuck is wrong with you before you left and then
I’m getting in the shower
the doctor said it was fentanyl mixed with horse tranquilizer
& the minutes passed the beeps kept on & rose & fell
sometimes your nose bled from the oxygen but at least I thought
you are still bleeding
I’M OUT OF EVERYTHING TO DAY BUT FOOTBALL METAPHORS AND DREAD
In 1984, the Baltimore Colts left the city in the middle of the night. Cleared out locker rooms, offices, training centers and loaded up 16 Mayflower trucks toward Indianapolis. When the city woke the next day, their football team was gone.
That’s how you left me. Without notice or note, without a goodbye. You took my dog and paintings and my green plant, the fucking fire tv stick, my favorite north face vest that was once yours before you gained 50 pounds.
You left dirt and dust and nails behind.
Better to rip the band-aid off, my mother said.
And every morning I sit down to eat, your shadow at the other end looks back at me. You are everywhere and nowhere and even the walls speak of you.
Our table is filled with things we’ve yet to disseminate: a bank statement, loan documents, our ez pass. You took the car.
I’m pregnant, I texted you.
The loss of three in one year is what pulled us here. Is the success of one enough to right the ship, so they say?
No, my mother said. You need to take care of it.
What she means is get rid of it, but won’t say that out loud.
To take care implies an act of mothering.
The other day my friend and I talked about miscarriage and loss, she said, it’s hard said but you’re not in a position to be a mother now and we talked about our careers and living and she said though I’m not a mother I feel like one and every day when I come home alive and well and working, can add another twig to our nest she said our nest where we can take care of a baby.
Maybe my mother is right. Take care of it.
To take care: a concerned or troubled state of mind, as that arising from a serious responsibility; worry.
I worry too much. I worry where you are, how you’re doing, if you’re ok. Even though it was you who threw me to the ground, high, needles and bags and spoons everywhere.
That was Sunday and I ended up in the ER hooked to machines and getting my wrist bandaged and the cops surrounded my bed. They said Domestic Violence and Do you want to press charges and really I just wanted to watch the game. The NY Giants were playing and they lost by two points to the Redskins and my heart rate and pulse spiked with every dropped pass.
Would you like more Xanax, the doctor asked, every time the heart machine screamed. Do I tell him it’s because of Odell Beckham Jr? He’s crying on the sideline and I can’t stop either.
The doctor confirmed I’m pregnant, I texted you again.
I got no response.
Odell hit the kicking net with his helmet and it bounced back into his face, knocking him over. Really and I mean really he’s lost it.
Is this even a poem anymore?
Days passed and I started bleeding again. A golf ball of blood rolled out of me and still you said nothing.
Matt drove me to places and things.
Franny set a plate of brownies beside my bed with a glass of milk.
Alexandra cooked me dinner and poured the wine.
Madeline took my dog on walks.
Amanda hugged me and read me poems and got me high and took me for sushi and it was the only time I’ve been happy, I mean truly happy for even just a moment.
I feel like dying, I texted you the next day.
Trinity facebooked me.
Sebastien said he loved me.
Mark emailed me.
Therapists reached out.
They say the cliché is “silence is loud.” Your silence is anything but loud. It is, as silence should be, silent. Nothing. Nowhere. Little to hear.
When you do speak, finally, I don’t know what you’ll say. But—
I want to say I hate you.
I want to say fuck you.
I want to say I never loved you.
I want to say you’re fat and you snore and I despised how you sleep sitting up sometimes.
I want to say your dick is small.
I want to say you never made me come.
I want to say the engagement ring you gave me was ugly.
I want to say I threw it in the trash.
None of that is true.
There’s a dirty shirt of yours that you forgot and I keep it hidden away in the back of my closet and at night when it’s dark and the curtains are pulled and nobody is looking, I smell it for five seconds, and tuck it away.