A couple of years ago I fell hard — first for a single poem called "Poem in Spanish," by Paul Hoover, and then for the collection it names.
I wanted to know how Hoover came to write this book, which I envied for the extravagance of its gestures and its deft feints and parries with the post-avant rules.
So I asked him to say a little something about it here. His comments follow the poem:
Poem in Spanish
I have two coffins but only one wife,
who loves me like a neighbor.
I have one wing and a long flight scheduled.
I have two sons and the time of day,
its late hour dark in a brilliant landscape.
I have a small religion based on silence
and a furious heart beating. I have a map
of the region where the kiss is deepest,
a duplex cathedral for my hells and heavens,
and one oily feather. No matter how I settle,
the world keeps moving at its famous pace.
I have two minds and an eye for seeing
the world's singular problems as my self-portrait.
I have fuzzy lightning and a pair of old glasses.
I have two radios but only one message,
subtle in transmission, arriving like wine.
I have yo tengo and two tambiens.
The world between them creaks
like distance and difference.
I have two fires and a very sleepy fireman,
immortal longings and one life only,
unliving and undying.
Paul Hoover writes:
The poems "Poem in Spanish" and "Corazon" were the last two poems in Winter (Mirror), published by Flood Editions in 2002. I wrote the rest of the sequence in 2003, while going through an excrucriating separation from the Chicago college where I'd taught for 28 years. I had always loved Latin American poetry for its warmth, daring, and sense of humor. The project developed out of this attraction. Why not be Latin American for a few poems? After a while, I realized that I could express certain things through the mask of style that my writing could not directly address: the death of parents, feelings of love, and so on. In discussing Poems in Spanish this summer at a literary conference in Rosario, Argentina, I stated that, as postmodern artifice, the concept of writing in Spanish gave me "permission" to speak forthrightly. As soon as the session ended, Hector Berenguer, the conference organizer, leaped to the stage to ask, "Why do you need permission?" He had invited me to the conference because of the directness and openness of the poems, not for the charm of their postmodern artifice. At the same time, Marjorie Perloff sent an email stating that the sequence is a "breakthrough" work. To some degree, apparently, the poems are like tea leaves; you can see in them whatever you desire to see. But I suspect a stronger force is present. The poems stand on essential ground and address essential matters. When I read them in Argentina, as well as at Omnidawn book events, I could literally hear the attention in the room. I could also feel attention in myself as a speaker. There was no doubt in me or in the audience about what the poem was after; even the poem knew.
We live at a time of crisis in expression, when subjectivity is broadly challenged, constructivism is increasingly triumphant, and the concept of unity of being is considered laughable. Our postmodern psychology is more or less: no artifice, no authenticity. The word "imagination" is no longer used. Poems are "constructed" rather than divined. By this standard, my poems break all the rules established against Romanticism, except for one thing — they appear to have been written in another voice than my own. This minor irony sets the work gently back into the postmodern camp. The reader is allowed to think: "Oh, they're constructed, after all, and stand at a safe distance from sincerity. What a relief!"