is short lived drinks.
(from “Berlin Untitled No. 4”)
The juxtaposition of worlds in these three lines, from the human face to what is seen in nature, shows an eye possessed with a passion for the passing. In Ten More Poems, a small collection of poems written by James Hoff while living in Berlin in 2003, there are several such moments of celebrating the passing.
In “Grid Theory for Squares,” for example, the reader is presented with the question: “Why do street lamps not line the sea?” In this image, one can see the essence of Hoff’s lyric meditations: a mix of the brief and jolting, played out with a reach that combines the city with the world around the city, whether that world be nature or human experience. What we imbue to the things of our world, natural and man-made, seems a focus of these poems, as can be further seen in “Intermission No. 1:”
new cars are red because they are embarrassed
to be parked in front of one-storie houses
Metaphor becomes not just a means of experiencing the correspondences between things but a reflex, a language all its own. The title of the poem, “Still, We Pick Petals and Paddle to the Nearest Sea,” is an example of what I mean: the music of “petals” and “paddle” combines with the meaning of each word, the associations of each become associated themselves and lead to “the nearest sea,” meaning. This sense of finding meaning through surprising associations is followed through in this poem later:
It has occurred to me
that the older you get,
the more you make love
to tie the shoestrings of lost days.
When Hoff states “Here I am/Kenneth Patchen,” in the poem “Anticipation of Morning,” the sudden presence of the disciple of Whitman and Blake as well as his own private muse makes sense, like seeing someone familiar in a crowd. Including Patchen, Hoff states the line he is drawing from as well as drawing towards. The Beats were bards of the city as much of themselves. Berlin, ultimately, isn’t at the center of these poems as much as the city of the self and the city the self sees. This point is driven home later in this poem in the lines:
I’m over the open
roar of the ready world…
Here, Hoff demonstrates the kind of bravado needed to celebrate the passing world in the face of the new. Each metaphor is an act of taking something old, given, and ending up somewhere new with it. The physical layout of the chapbook, its words set on a 1933 Underwood typewriter, lives up to this spirit as much as the poems. This world is one of transiency, of fleeting moments. When Hoff pleads at the end of “Anticipation of Morning:”
Panel the walls of heaven please
with the kindness of a stranger.
the impetus behind not just these poems but poetry altogether can be seen: a desire, always a desire, to see something new in the world despite ourselves.
Ten More Poems is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse
Jose Angel Araguz is a Canto Mundo fellow. He has had poems recently in Barrow Street, Slipstream, Hanging Loose and Right Hand Pointing. He is presently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati. He runs the poetry blog, The Friday Influence.