Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Marilyn Hacker

There are some new poems in Lodestar Quarterly yet another journal I know little about, but now will be looking at more closely since it seems to be a fairly serious queer literary journal—an online Bloom? They’ve included Edmund White, Jewelle Gomez, Mark Doty and others…

But really this is a good reason to talk about Marilyn Hacker because I have been wanting to put one of her poems up for awhile now, especially as she has been busy translating Vénus Khoury-Ghata  and Claire Malroux, and it would be nice to hear from her again. Hacker’s most recent book is Desesperonto, a wonderful, sad, and hopeful exploration of life in Paris and New York. It follows Squares & Courtyards in tone, I think. My favorite however, remains Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons. Along with being one of the best formal poets of our time, Hacker is unique in her high romanticism, how she seems (and one suspects would be), more at home in the world of Donne, than in the world of internet chat rooms, Bush and Cheney et al., yet, tempted as she might be to slip into another century, exists with full knowledge of and response to, such figures and political facts. A romantic poet she may be, but Hacker role models the kind of active poet role that I envy and respect.  

Aside from being an amazing poet and person in the world, Hacker is also one of the most inspiring readers—in fact I can’t believe there isn’t an audio file somewhere on line and perhaps I’ll try to remedy that. I do have some photos, a slideshow from Dodge last year where she captivated us despite the rain and muck and what have you. But 3 people or 300, Hacker is able to transport her audience into a world of poetry that seems as deep as it is timeless. She looks absolutely joyful when reading, and perhaps that’s because she is…

Like Anne Carson, there is a sense of literary time being compressed in Hacker’s work. It’s entirely plausible that Hopkins might arrive, and not merely at a mention, but in spirit, in meter and line. Hacker is also a poet for whom conversation is essential. Her best work is often in the form of letters, or odes. Here’s an excerpt from a poem written for poet Alfred Corn:

Alfred, we both know there's little dactylic pentameter
that can be spotted and quoted from classic anthologies
(although Hephaistion's Handbook on Meters cites "Atthis I
loved you once long ago" as an example, without much on
Sappho, but still, could a presence be much more felicitous ?)
so this epistle is, much like good friendship, unorthodox,
framed both by Sappho and schoolmasters, and, overseeing the
words of itinerants, Wystan? Jean-Arthur ? Elizabeth ?
Aimé and Léopold lighting the Left Bank with Négritude ?
August has shut down the shops and cafés on my market street ;
when they re-open, la rentrée, fresh start, it will be without
me. I'll be back in New York, feeling ten times more alien
than where the polyglot boulevards intersect , linking up
11e and 20e, Maghreb, punk chic, kashruth, chinoiserie.
Once one could say that Manhattan was barely America,
which -- in Manhattan -- was meant as an insider's compliment.

So much depends upon the line, and with Hacker each one is kinetic. Singing. For me, Hacker signifies queer reclamation of the sonnet…perhaps there were others, for sure there were, but for me, she handed the form, meter, lock and key, with such luscious desire. From Love, Death

You, little one, are just the kind of boy
I would have eyeballed at the bar, and cruised
efficiently, and taken home, and—used?
Hell, no! The bodice-busters say “enjoy,”
and how I do enjoy what girl you bring
back out in me, brought out in time for you
to riff all keys of titillation through
with those square, reddish hands whose quivering
sometimes on mine plucks songs from everything.
Bad, brash, and skinless, not a boy at all,
between boot-tops and that surprising small
waist is where my hands and mouth would slide,
effortless and attentive to you, guide
you, ride you to the place we both belong.

Here’s a profile of Hacker by poet, Rafael Campo.  

I notice there is also a poem from Scott Hightower, who is a lovely poet and human being—more on him in another post. I want to think about the sheer number of queer poets who are also formalists in the US, but another time.

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