A Collection of Poems by Emma Catherine Hoff
Winner of the 2022 Stone Soup Book Contest
“The darkness isn’t as bad / as people think.”
So ends the first poem in Emma Catherine Hoff’s numinous debut, An Archeology of the Future—before proceeding calmly, curiously into the dark. People weep in the streets. The snow closes its eyes. Birds scream, a question begs the world for its answer, everything is “frozen yet moving.”
Hoff’s world, like ours, is ending, and yet this is not a tragedy: “there was peace for Earth / with no one there.” Walking the tightrope between humor and despair, rationality and absurdism, the sublime and the material, Hoff’s poems are elegant, wise, ageless.
These are poems written against eternity.
Like the Surrealists before her, Hoff can see into the emotional lives of the things we use every day, things we toss around carelessly. These poems bring them to life in a way that enriches all the lives around them, even the lives of the people we see in de Chirico paintings.
Hoff is a great poet and these are poems that will truly move you. Her concerns are ageless. And she writes with a careful observing eye that makes even the imaginative moments feel palpably real.
If one of my friends had written this beautifully when I was starting out, I would have probably quit, and doffed my cap to her and said “you go on ahead” or more likely, “you’re already there.”
— Matthew Rohrer, author of The Others
When I read Emma Hoff for the first time years ago, I thought: She’s not from this planet. I thought: She does not remind me of other poets; she makes me forget them.
I am tempted to use the words visionary, otherworldly, untimely, genius. I am tempted to say she flies above the earth.
Let me say it this way.
Hoff is related to Ovid, Blake, Rimbaud, Vallejo, Pessoa, Whitman, and Dickinson—not because she sounds like them (she doesn’t) but because she sees like them (indeed the verb “to see” appears on almost every page of this manuscript).
Because her vision is prophetic, profound, and panoramic.
Because she is unafraid to write about the grandest of topics—love, war, death, apocalypse, God, and eternity.
Because she manages to write from places of knowing (“dirt is the only thing / we can become”) and unknowing (“Was the Minotaur / really / a monster?”).
Because she writes about the past, present, and future all at once.
Because just when you think you understand her poems, they change, shift, become-otherwise (“Please become / anew”).
Because she is a master of craft and a musician of as-yet unheard music (“The lips play leapfrog with rain and hail and snow”).
Emma Hoff is a rare poet. And one of my favorites.
— Conner Bassett, author of Gad's Book
What I seek in poetry is the same thing astronomers seek: entire dark-dot planets hidden by lights too brilliant to see past. This is just what Emma Catherine Hoff delivers in An Archaeology of the Future. This collection is a garden of eurekas, a cavalcade of astonishments as, stanza by stanza, Hoff delivers the musings of a subtle intellect fed by a deep and abiding empathy for this world. The deftness of the prosody is only matched by its variety; influences range from the elegiac to the ekphrastic to the surreal to Black Mountain experiments in form, but all unified by a passionate yet quiet reverence and a love of language that would have made Auden sit up a little straighter. My urge, in fact, is to stop speaking generally and just quote to you from this wonder-stuffed collection. But there’s no need. Open it, and read for yourself.
— Carlos Hernandez, NY Times bestselling author of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
Is there any form that Emma Hoff can't undertake? Any fissure in the universe that she will fail to inspect and fracture further until she breaks into the realm of the hidden yet true? The delights to be uncovered in An Archeology of the Future strike me with awe, urgency, solace, and compassion. How daring, how beautiful, how extraordinary it is, in this moment of the world when our world feels so broken, that Mt. Parnassas is still at work, and Hoff is a voice so richly sowed.
— Jenny Boully, author of Betwixt and Between: Essays on the Writing Life
The poems of Emma Hoff in An Archeology of the Future contend with some of life’s most Delphic questions. The young poet engages with inscrutable subjects like regret, darkness, the end of the world, and does so with as much precision as she does a pear or an apricot. Hoff acknowledges both the complexity and the simplicity of human experience, and her poems encourage readers to accept a certain level of unknowing, to embrace it even. Hoff’s lens is wide and varied. She points to other artists, draws inspiration from the paintings of Henri Rousseau and René Magritte, the photography of Pedro Luis Raota, the poetry of Tomaž Šalamun. She reflects on the life of Bobby Hutton, political activist, Black Panther, and ultimately victim of the Oakland Police. These are not small ponderings; they dig into our history to dislodge meaning, beauty, and an archeology of the future, a future which will, no doubt, contain further brilliance from Emma Hoff.
— Melinda Wilson, Co-curator of the Poor Mouth Reading Series in the Bronx