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Angela Ball

The New York School Diaspora (Part Eleven): Paul Hoover [by Angela Ball]

Written (after Szymborska)

The written stone rests
in the unwritten river;
unwritten rain is falling
over the written town.

Nothing written today,
but tomorrow you’ll be written
as you sit in your room not writing.

Lo, it is written.
Pollen writes on the stamen.
The man writes a child
in the body of the woman.
Your eyes write the view
into the window,
but it doesn’t stay forever.
It returns with you into the unwritten.

All that means is written.
Lo, a tiger of a word
has escaped its cage.

Our quiet words
wait beneath the stair
for a reason to speak,
an edge or fold or cause
to remark. Oh, we say,
no way and no how.

This is how the world begins,
dark branches written
against a white sky.

The written stone rests
in the written river;
written rain falls
over the written town.

--Paul Hoover

Written (after Szymborska)

In teaching the work of Wisława Szymborska, the Nobel Prize winning Polish poet, I came across her lines about “a written deer running through a written forest.”  The phrase is magical and generative, reminding us of the central issue of writing, the encounter of the real and the imaginary.  Speaking the word “deer” brings them to mind, as we have individually experienced deer.  This form of magic was known by ancient Greeks as ekphrasis.  I’m drawn to the poetry of Wallace Stevens, because, in bringing us closer to the real, we discover the Real.  

--Paul Hoover

Paul Hoover's book, O, and Green:  New and Selected Poems will be published in August by MadHat Press / Plume Editions.  It includes selections from all his books since 2001.  With Maria Baranda he edited and translated The Complete Poems of San Juan de la Cruz, published by Milkweed Editions earlier this year.  He also edited, and in part translated, The New World Written:  Selected Poems of Maria Baranda (Yale University Press, 2021).  He is editor of the annual literary magazine, New American Writing, and two editions of Postmodern American Poetry:  A Norton Anthology (1994 / 2013).  His collection of literary essays, Fables of Representation, is available from University of Michigan Press.

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The New York School Diaspora (Part Eleven): Paul Hoover [by Angela Ball]

For me, an important question is whether a poem’s language seems to originate from outside the poet or from within. The first case allows for selection and collage, for serious play. Paul Hoover’s “Written” (after Szymborska) belongs in this camp, finding voice from a line of Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, “The Joy of Writing.” What results is a poem with these striking lines: “The man writes a child / in the body of the woman.” The article used for both participants, “the,” is impersonal. The preposition, “in,” with its stern accuracy, has the same coolness. These choices tell us we are in the realm of the primordial:

     This is how the world begins,
     dark branches written
     against a white sky.

The poem’s repetition of “written” hones the word, sharpens its force and the force of all words: “Lo [look!], a tiger of a word / has escaped its cage.”

The poem’s “written stone” is cousin to the stone in W.B. Yeats’s famous poem, “Easter, 1916,” where it lies unchanged “in the midst of all,” holding the “terrible beauty” of those martyred for Ireland in the Easter rising. Amid violent change, an abiding coolness. This is the temperature of Paul Hoover’s “Written,” in which words are marks, and primal remarks express surprise or disbelief: “Oh, we say, / no way and no how.” Why is the poem’s river “unwritten” at the beginning and “written” at the end? The answer is this poem, tiger of language and the permanence of meaning.

--Angela Ball


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