Chelsea Hodson and Measuring Literary Success

What first pulled me into the writing of Chelsea Hodson was her piece Reading Seneca 2,000 Years Later: A Book Report in the Form of the Scientific Method, which is exactly that, a book report, revived by Hodson’s entrancing, minimalist style. In it, Hodson reflects on an experience she had with another writer and her own ego, which, of course, interested my ego, writing,

“I read an article about a young female essayist with a bestselling book and interpreted this to mean that there were no more book deals left in the world. Nope, that’s it, I’ve lost my chance, I thought. I’m ashamed to say I actually shed tears over my imaginary competition that, according to me, I was losing.”

As an outsider reading Hodson’s work, this moment surprised me, for both the intimate look she allows the reader to see of her, or rather how she sees herself, and of the resounding familiarity of her statement. Reading Seneca was published in 2013, the same year as her interview with The Missouri Review in which she was included as part of their series on writers “who have not had success in the traditional sense […] but are still writing,”both only a few months before the year Dazed and Confused Magazine named her one of the “Top Ten American writers you need to read this year” and her second chapbook, Pity the Animal, was included in Flavorwire’s “The Best Indie Literature of 2014 So Far”.

As I made my way further through Hodson’s online presence, all of this seemed to be a strange, validating reflection of the relationship between writer and success, seeing how she had expanded herself, from her first published works in 2009, through her original chapbook Beach Camp and a blog, an inventory of each of her possessions with a picture and short piece of prose. An impressive list that seemed from the outside obvious stepping stones to emerging into a successful career, a separate in-congruent, entity from the self-doubt Hodson expresses.

With a background in poetry and journalism, Hodson’s style is succinct and carefully measured to pull entire worlds out of small amounts of writing, creating a dimensionality about her work that’s intriguing. The performance artist Marina Abramovic comes up often in Hodson’s work (see her collaboration with the Marina Abramovic Institute’s Immaterial ), and like Abramovic, Hodosn’s work demands to watched as much as read. Whether a conscious decision or not, her work makes the most of this, through the beautifully printed pocket-sized chapbooks that encase her work and most interestingly through the trailers she has created on her website for her them, which concentrate the dark, haunting feeling of her work, into one-scene visual portraits. Other pieces of her work take on her almost-journalistic tone, like her Inventory at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and blog, her writing transforming images into introspective and capturing collections.

Hodson’s path has been cut into a different direction than what is considered the traditional one, and yet clearly one that is working. In the small presses that published her chapbooks (Swill Children and Future Tense Books) and on the internet, she has taken advantage of a style of writing that pervades more than just the page it’s written on. Listening to her “Meanwhile Downstairs” published on Voicemail Poems, a poem that comes alive in the unusual medium, made to be read in her slow-moving voice over the crackle of a phone line, it makes sense that this not-traditionally-successful writer has had to find her own way to do it.

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