When I was a young woman, I happened upon a slim book of poetry called Mapping the Distance, by another young (but slightly older than me) woman named Alicia Hokanson. Many of the books that drift onto my shelves later leave them, but this one has remained for more than three decades. I felt some kind of kinship with this writer, back then: Both from Seattle, both teacher-writers, both in complicated relationships. There was something in her face in the author photo that felt a bit like looking in a mirror.
Something (I don’t remember what) a few weeks back caused me to do a search for Hokanson, and I discovered that in 2021 she published her second full-length work, Perishable World. I learned that in the intervening years, she had a long career as a secondary school teacher in Seattle. She retired from teaching in 2014, from a job she took in 1987, two years before her first book was published.
Where Mapping the Distance is the story of a young woman grappling with the challenges of early adulthood, Perishable World is (at its title hints) about life’s challenges at the opposite end of time’s fulcrum. Instead of a story filled with questions about choices, it’s a story filled with inevitable loss. I’m still reading it, so I can’t give a full accounting or review, but the writing is gorgeous. I can see, reading from both books, the development of craft and voice that occurred in the decades between them.
I can see that Hokanson is still, as she was then, just a little bit ahead of me on the journey. She’s offering, again, a map to places I can see but haven’t yet reached–not only as a human living in this particular corner of the planet, but as a writer, too.
Hokanson continued to write poetry for publication during her decades of teaching, but there is a gap of more than three decades between her two full-length books of poems. I have one book to my name, published in 2003. I remember telling someone that it took me more than a decade to write the poems in it and joking that I hoped it wouldn’t be another ten years before a second book. It’s now been nearly two decades, and I haven’t written even a handful of poems in the last ten years.
Still, I have been writing. Here, mostly, and although this writing doesn’t require what poetry does, there is something about committing words to an audience that hones craft.
There’s nothing like a book about what passes and endures to make a person think hard about what is and isn’t worth doing with what remains of a life, especially when it is written by someone whose journey contains important parallels to your own. I’m not sure what serendipity brought me back to this writer again, but this week I’m grateful for it–for the mapping of the long distance that a writing/teaching life can be.