Antrim House 2006
By JON ANDERSEN
Special to The Cool Justice Report
EDITOR'S NOTE: This review is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Someone is going to use the word transcendent or some variation of that misty word to praise Lynn Hoffman’s poetry – poetry that moves through history, through check-out lines, through the juvenile court system in Connecticut to the mountains of Colombia and the theology beyond.
But let me state right now that I will be willing to debate anyone who dares try to peg Like Fire Catching Wind with transcendence, even if it’s Harold Bloom himself. (Maybe especially if it’s Harold Bloom. Hoffman’s poems do not attempt to levitate over her own or anyone else’s reality – they dive into life as it is; they demand that we see the magic of everyday living in all its bizarre pain and joy.
These are poems of an engaged, reflective life. The quest never leads to spiritual flight; rather we are asked to face up. In the poem “Choosing,” Hoffman addresses a mother who has abandoned her child for life with a lover in Vegas – a life of addiction and squalor. Even trying to earn redemption – conquering the booze and squalor, trying to reconnect – the mother must realize that her children “may not want to let go/ of the red-hot rage/that’s been seething inside/ever since the day/you chose him.” The devastating line break at the beginning of the stanza reminds us that abandoned children will hold onto their rage as tenaciously as they once tried to hold on to their parents.
If there is no transcendence in Hoffman’s poems, there is plenty of room for inspired transformation. “Reversal” is brilliant poem that – in a public wrestling match --takes on all the boys “who think nothing/of pinning a girl/to a wall/or a mattress/ or the front seat/ of your Daddy’s Beamer” and forces them “to face us/and the possibility/that today/just might be the day/we take you down/ and your all-male world/ because you just can’t handle/ being pinned/ by a girl/ in public.”
In the very next poem, “Small Talk,” the voice of the poem is that of a cashier moved to thank an older man who’s turned out to be a World War II veteran. In the moment before we realize this gratitude with the cashier, the man with his “deep-creased face/and milk blue eyes” adds “I fought with the Nazis.” We think we know what’s happening when we’re standing in the check out line with groceries, but we don’t. The poem ruptures the still surface to make us face reality. History – which we conceive of as abstract, cut off from our own reality – is grinding along right with us -- and because of us. “Small Talk,” indeed.
Like Fire Catching Wind is delightful in its authentic range. There are so many wonderful and galvanizing surprises. If you’re about to lay down any of your hard-earned dollars for a book of poems, make sure you put sixteen bucks toward this one, and read it! As Doug Anderson wrote “she’ll help you see.” And I’ll end on this little teaser – you’ll never experience the Department of Motor Vehicles the same way again.
Jon Andersen is the author of Stomp and Sing (Curbstone 2005), a book of image-studded lyrics of work, love, family, and class struggle. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including The Cafe Review, Connecticut Review, The Progressive, and Rattle. He teaches, along with his wife and fellow writer Denise Abercrombie, at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs.