Chances are good that you know Chelsea Hodson via her distinctive, incisive essays or her recently-concluded Inventory project, in which she documented the possessions in her life. But she’s also been expanding her body of work into different disciplines: she released an album, Night Redacted, earlier this year. As with most everything she’s done, this is haunting, discomfiting work, a series of poems that lure the reader in, disorienting them magnificently along the way. I talked with Hodson to learn more about this project’s origins and execution.
What provided the initial impetus to record an album?
I loved what Black Cake Records was doing and I wanted to be involved. I originally talked with Kelly Schirmann (who runs Black Cake) about recording audio selections from my Inventory project, but then I performed that text in its entirety, so an audio release of it felt excessive. I asked Kelly, “What if I wrote a new album instead?” She was game, so I spent the next several months working on poems that relied on being read out loud.
How did you go about structuring Night Redacted? Were there any poems that you considered for it that didn’t quite fit?
I was very inspired by noir films, especially The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, which is featured in the Night Redacted trailer. The sound clip I used is from a scene in which she’s retelling what happened in the courtroom before she went to jail for stealing a fur coat. At one point in her lie, the judge tells her, “A likely story,” and she tells the judge, “But it’s true, every word of it.” I love her devotion to her lie, and all the things that happen in the shadows of noir films. Using scenes like those as reference points, my own writing began to take on this breathlessness that didn’t fit into my essays—a short concentrated burst of a poem worked better.
You’ve taken part in readings and done events that were more performance-based. How did Night Redacted compare to those experiences?
I love to perform because it’s like a science experiment—I never know how the room, the people, the sound system or the lighting will influence me. Night Redacted was so much more controlled—I recorded it in my bedroom under a sheet because a B&H sales rep told me that would give me the effect I was looking for. He was right.
How do you see this album fitting in to your larger body of work?
I’m primarily interested in the essay form—but poetry is my biggest influencer, so it makes sense to me to write both. When I write essays, the speaker is very much “me,” whereas in Night Redacted, I didn’t always recognize the pleading, insatiable voice (though sometimes I did). But as Karen Russell writes in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: “I swim with all my strength. No superhuman surge, or pony heroics; it’s just me at my most desperate.”
You delve somewhat into your own history here, but there are also nods to current literary happenings here–I’m thinking specifically of “Every Year, At Least Once” and “You’re Not the Only One.” What prompts something addressing a more contemporary scene?
Well, I’d be wary of saying “my own history,” since I wouldn’t file these poems under “nonfiction.” But yes, those poems were inspired by real people, and I wrote “You’re Not the Only One” specifically to read to Niina Pollari at her book launch for Dead Horse. I barely knew her then, but I felt so connected to her through her work that I found myself wanting to talk back to her. The poem started as a joke but now I see it as a kind of ars poetica.
Do you consider these the definitive collected versions of these poems, or could you see them appearing in a print version as well?
I’m content with them solely existing as audio tracks. But I write poems privately all the time, so when I’ve finished more, I’ll do something with them, too.
Can you envision yourself doing another recorded project in the future?
Certainly. The most important thing to me is that the writing works on the page, but I’m always eager to experiment with more audio, video, and performance.