Saturday, May 18, 2013

Desolation: Souvenir Reviewed

The following review by Robin Morrissey was just published in The Rumpus online at

Desolation: Souvenir by Paul Hoover

Reviewed By
Where is the emotion of language? It’s not always clear when and why words can carry the traction of loss to the heart. Many writers, many great writers, have lamented the shortcoming of language when faced with real, intense anguish. In some cases it is the fault of words. In others, the shortcoming might be the emotional and linguistic limitations of their speakers. Writers excavate, sort, defamiliarize, string and distill meanings that strike at once internally and externally. These are experiences of the imagination set to trigger the human, the real, the familiar and the imagined. Poetic language is that which wrests the heart from a daily currency of pith.

If pith is the mode of the automaton and the worker bee, then Desolation: Souvenir, Hoover’s latest work, puts smoke in the hive. His work is the interruption to the monotony of habituation, deadly as Schlovsky claims. It calls attention to the anemic patterns of habit, using pain and courage to carve through.

Though Hoover is relatively prolific, his writing is capable of traversing, if not discovering within itself, new measures of emotional depth and conceptual difficulty. The entire volume of his published work should be the call to invent new concepts in the prizing of poetic superheroes that acknowledges the sustained lift of a long-fighting heavy weight. Scars and blows all gorgeously legible.

Desolation: Souvenir starts at the point where language fails (as maybe it is supposed to if it is to show it is capable of meaning anything that would touch us): the death of a child. The brief poems piece aphorisms into elegy. The awkward junctures function as attempts at connection, solace, that instead show the gaps – of what is unknown, of what is suffering, of what’s been lost. In “the dream and now a field,” Hoover’s speaker identifies the “vain remedy” of language in the aftermath of emotional evacuation: “the consolations pour/ those unseen wither/ thinking’s like a wind/ tying knots in twine” (14).

These elegies are not only for the loss of a person, but address the sense of impermanence inherent in language in the moment it seeks to comfort, to close a gap or cover an open wound. Hoover writes in “and what is last in us”: “touch is a form of speech/close your eyes to imagine/open them to remember/forms are firm, shapes shift” (29). Where the contradictions do not result in a zero sum, instead verify the irrational logic of the heart suffering what is ultimately unthinkable, impossible.

Paul Hoover

The language is colloquial; occasionally literary references crop up, and then recede back into the subtle mixture of short lines, references to the personal and to cycles of earth, and transient, lithe meditations on the nature of words, and reality.

In a short section at the end of the book, called “The Windows (The Actual Acts)” Hoover spends twenty four pages on an exercise which seems to be for the purpose of trying to get language to be something real. They are propositions. If propositions are meant to illustrate the things of the world that are, and that can be said, all else is nonsense. In “The Windows” Hoover is carving even more depth to his unnamed speaker. In a move to fix language to say and to be what is, to imply permanence, and, therefore, the propositions function to claim the unchangeable immortal truths of the world. They are a gorgeous defense to the metaphysics and splayed logic of language when confronted by death.

Hoover’s propositions, however, shape what is with humor and a lush bleed of the illogical into what is: “A new species of clam being eaten by a new species of bird./ And there’s no new man to record it./ To imagine a world is to clean it./ Hard to conceive of a dirty new world.” And, here he leaves us, in a dirty new world – with perfect half-finished lives, sentences, thoughts, and sort of made beds. Where people and words suffer and die, or survive and maybe get shocked hard enough into having to be something new.

Robin Morrissey is currently working on a Master of Arts in Literature. She has an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and has published poetry, essays and plays in Requited Journal, Caffeine Theatre, phoebe, Columbia Poetry Review, Berkeley Anthology Writers, and Chinquapuin, and poetry forthcoming in 3AM magazine. She lives in Chicago where, when not at her computer, she is editing an -anthology of the city's lost pet notices and wild animal sightings.

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