A look into the writing process of a published Ramapo professor

Photo courtesy of James Hoch.

In the fall of 2019, professor James Hoch announced to his class that he had just signed a book deal. This past week, he released two poetry collections, his first publications since 2007. Throughout his 16 years at Ramapo, Hoch has become known for giving seemingly simple yet impactful lessons — his “write now, think later” approach often teaches students more than good writing.

He holds an interesting view on the idea of having a “writing process,” and says he’s not sure he really believes in it. To Hoch, the most important part is carving out “space and time to listen,” and from there discover. He urges his students to value the revision process.

“I don’t start with what I want to say,” Hoch said. “I start with being lost and find what I want to say.”

Hoch says he’s always got a stack of “half-baked” poems he's working on and, for years of writing, thought he was working toward a single manuscript. He says it took a few years before he discovered there were three separate works being made. Two of which became “Radio Static” and “Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey,” the third still in the drafts.

“It’s nice to have a new book out. It’s not something I take for granted,” Hoch said in an interview. “It’s exciting and a little nerve-wracking.”

The collections came together in their current iteration during Hoch’s sabbatical in spring 2021, but he says they never truly feel finished, and he imagines he will always continue revising. 

“Radio Static” is a collection of poems he describes as fragmentary in nature, to and about his brother. He says the collection is about two brothers, and begs the questions, “How do they survive each other? How do we achieve a connection given very different lives we live?”

“I feel like it was a bad walkie talkie between us,” Hoch said. “Sometimes we hear static and sometimes we hear each other.” 

Though strongly connected to all of the poems, Hoch says some notable ones include “Auditory,” a poem he recently did a radio reading of, and “Afghanistan.” 

“Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey” focuses on Hoch’s own personal identity. He says it acts as the third book in a trilogy, the first two being his other collections “A Parade of Hands” and “Miscreants.”

“It’s very much about living a life as an adult… There are a lot of poems about parents and losing parents, and how our [identity] are both our past and future selves,” Hoch said. “I feel like I’m a collection of a whole bunch of stuff that belonged to others. That’s how I’ve come to think of my identity.”

The cover of the collection is a photograph of the Atlantic City ferris wheel, and Hoch says readers from New Jersey will understand the poems in a unique way. Much like in “Radio Static,” this collection of poems also poses questions, but here about “the gift and burden that is post-adolescence.”

“It has all of the memories of being young and all the reckoning of having been through that. Connection to the past is not enough to sustain the future, you have to reckon with it,” he said. “When you’re grieving you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s on the other side of this?’ And I’m asking myself ‘what’s on the other side of other?’”

These poems, which Hoch says never truly have an end, can now become the important reading for writers following in Hoch’s path. “Radio Static” can be found through Green Linden Press, and “Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey” on Amazon and LSU Press

“I’m happy these two books are coming out. They’re both very important to me personally. It feels good to know that they took their time and they were necessary for me to write and create,” Hoch said. “Nobody waits 10 years, 12 years for unnecessary work. It was a lesson in perseverance.”