(Omnidawn Publishing, 2012)

 

 

“The word is on parole,” writes Paul Hoover in his new book desolation: souvenir. Like the lower case title, the line makes clear the care Hoover takes with language. Words “slip slide perish” as T.S. Eliot reminds us, and yet they are the best keys we have to understanding our consciousness of the world. “Consciousness rests among its objects // which makes the objects restless.” In the cerebral circle-dance of this couplet, I hear a resonance arising from the Four Quartets: “The roses had the look of flowers that are looked at.” But this resonance comes through the keen sense of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. Indeed, the poet must be as careful with words as the philosopher, for the history of literature, and of language itself, morphs its way through the simplest line. “Undying words are few,” writes Hoover. Some words, then, don’t die. Hoover gives Platonism a space at the table. There is something of the timelessness of thought that shines through language. “We must prepare the child / for what it already knows.” So we meet The Menovia Wordsworthdown one corridor, while down another we listen again to tones of the Tractatus: “No world is made of thought alone // No thought is made of world alone.” The philosophic circle dance turns and returns. The title poem is replete with thought rhymes that recur in three beat linesat once loose and careful. In the second long poem, “Windows (The Actual Acts),” thought stretches out into a longer line where accrued meanings take their time. “A thought doesn’t happen / it goes to the brink and returns.” At the brink of eternity, Hoover is as resistant to easy answers as was Wittgenstein. “Can’t think of infinite space / without a footnote present.” These poems are such footnoteshints and guesses. “Ideas can take a thousand years to come into our heads.” Hoover offers up stanzas at the end of experience, tips of submerged mountains, where the love and patience of a given meditation go on and on. He offers up those points where end and beginning meet and trade places. To return to the child is to return to prephilosophical intuitions; we must return to these intuitions if philosophyand poetryare to remain vital: 

 

                          the absolute if there is one 

                                       the darkest thoughts are trees 

                          with a hint of light behind them 

                                       life has been and is 

                          a miracle death discovers 

                                       in the farthest well-lit room 

 

This is the most beautiful meditative voice I have heard since Eliot’s Four Quartets. Like Eliot, Hoover displays a stunning compression of ideas that open over time as the mind’s own flowers. “The farthest well lit room” may indeed be the mind itself. To be conscious of death is to be conscious of life in the same mind-breath. So the reader is brought into another essential exchange, a turning circle whose circumference grows. Hoover’s apophatic understanding gives us hints and guesses that move us toward unexpected affirmations “Death, thou shalt die,” says John Donne in the Holy Sonnets. Hoover responds: 

 

                         after light trespasses 

                                      it stands alone in the room 

                         death’s on death’s bed 

                                      myth holds a candle 

                         you can feel the end 

                                      breathing through the ceiling 

 

 

 

 

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