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Goad reviews Hedge Coke

Saturday Review: “A History of Violence, a History of Beauty” a review by Jill Goad of
Look at This Blue: A Poem. by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke (2022)

We are so excited to start sharing book reviews forthcoming in our fall issue (due out in October)!

Goad starts off her dive into Hedge Coke’s book-length assemblage poem with a detailed overview of the book’s themes: “[the poem] tells the story of California, where she currently lives, mingling its past and present and focusing on stories of violence against people and the environment. Alongside depictions of familial abuse, genocide, mistreatment of people at the hands of the state’s institutions, and destruction of flora and fauna are subtler descriptions of people’s resilience and the persistence of natural beauty.” Goad highlights the book’s emphasis on portraying California as a brutal place of decay and extinction, while subtly refusing to give up hope. 

Deeply concerned with various forms of violence, from the human-to-human violence of the physical torture of children “because you might be gay,” to the historic violence against Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Mexican American people which was government-enforced, the book bars no holds when it comes to graphic displays of violence, particularly because this confrontation of the reader with the brutality of reality is precisely Coke’s point; “a call to action that encourages readers to understand the chaos of current life (…).” 

By the end, Goad points to the poem’s messages of resilience and love in individual acts despite the inherent cruelty of California and its historic darkness. And Hedge Coke means to present the reader with the question of acceptance of this place as it is, brutally violent and chaotically resilient, but “she does not seem to expect an easy answer to her closing question, nor does she provide one in her poem. Her emphasis on complication and contradiction gives Look at This Blue its appeal while also leaving the reader with a sense of uncertainty on where California’s story will go next and where, perhaps, it will end.” 

Hedge Coke will be visiting North Carolina as the 2023 Thomas Wolfe Prize Recipient, for a reading in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 7:30pm in Moeser Auditorium. The reading is free and open to the public.

Read the review before it is published this fall and buy the book on or from your local independent bookstore.