According to the notes, the title poem of Jay Hopler’s book comes from green squall, or rashmahanic (West Indian Creole), which means unruly or unruly behavior. As this poetry collection is mainly concerned with gardens and is introduced by one of the author’s poetry teachers, Louise Glück, who counts herself a fan of gardens in verse, maybe the title tips its hat to plants’ rather unruly habits (including weeds, of course, which sprout up in any poetry collection, no matter how pretty).
Sadly, we lost Jay Hopler last month to metastatic prostate cancer at age 51 (this is where we say, Too young!). This book, winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize, came out in 2006, however. The opening number signals Hopler’s willingness to play with words and parts of speech the way Dylan Thomas once did:
And the sky!
Nooned with the steadfast blue enthusiasm
Of an empty nursery.
Crooked lizards grassed in yellow shade.
The grass was lizarding,
Green and on a rampage.
Shade tenacious in the crook of a bent stem.
Noon. This noon –
Skyed, blue and full of hum, full of bloom.
The grass was lizarding.
Also like Thomas, Hopler marches out the hyphenated adjectives as eye-catching descriptors: “soot-blackened collapse of brick and timber,” “grief-crazèd mother,” “the sky – loud-blue and cloudless,” “the birdbath: choked-out, cracked, a-wreck with weeds,” “Her voice so soft…, so far-off-hearted, like the sound of the grass lying down.”
In addition to colors (green especially), light is everywhere in these poems, almost as if photosynthesis is essential to the poetry’s well-being. Sunlight, moonlight, figurative light. One can see why Yale’s judges determined a bright future for the young(er) Hopler.
Here, in a classic “morning” poetry form, Hopler invokes both plants and sunlight:
Standing next to a large white pot
Filled to overflowing with orange
And yellow snapdragons, my old
Coonhound looks across the dew-
Strewn lawn at the magnolia tree.
Suddenly, from somewhere deep
Within the squall of all those big
And sloppy blossoms, a desolate
Call rings out.
This morning, still
And warm, heavy with the smells
Of gardenia and Chinese wisteria,
The first few beams of spring sun-
Light filtering through the flower-
Crowded boughs of the magnolia,
I cannot conceive a more genuine,
More merciful, form of happiness
In a single, black and ragged line,
The shadow of the magnolia tree
Draws nearer to the flower pots.
The coonhound lowers her snout
To its dark edge –. What was it
We heard call out so mournfully?
To what heartbreak would a call
Like that be heir? The air is still,
Nature, once a bountiful source, has been relegated to darker quarters in poetry these days. It lies east of Eden while the garden is given over to cultural, political, and social issues of the day. If you need a break from modern fads, you can do worse than take a walk through Hopler’s Green Squall. The poetry may lean unruly, but overall, the sights and smells should please you.