Jay Hopler
October 2009

 

Jay HoplerJay Hopler was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1970 and has earned degrees from New York University, The Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars and The Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies including American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Cavalier, Colorado Review, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Confrontation, Eclipse, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The Journal, The Kenyon Review, The Literary Review, Mid-American Review, The New Delta Review, New Voices: 1989—1998 (Academy of American Poets), The New Yorker, Pequod, Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, Poetry International, POOL, Puerto Del Sol, Seattle Review, Smartish Pace, Sonora Review, Under the Rock Umbrella: Modern American Poets from 1951—1976 (Mercer University Press), The Wallace Stevens Journal and Xantippe.
       
His book of poems, Green Squall (Yale University Press, 2006) was chosen by Louise Glück as the winner of the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.  Green Squall also received the 2007 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, a 2006 Florida Book Award [Silver Medal in the Poetry Category], a 2006 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award [Bronze Medal in the Poetry Category] and a 2007 National “Best Books” Award from USA Book News.  The Killing Spirit: An Anthology of Murder-for-Hire, his first book, was published in the United States and Europe by The Overlook Press and Canongate Books in 1996.  His next book, The Yale Anthology of Younger American Poetry, will be published by Yale University Press in 2010.  He is Assistant Professor of English (Creative Writing/Poetry) at the University of South Florida.


from Turn Out the Lights, Now Build Me a Hotrod
Notes on the Poetic Process

1/
Writing a poem is like building a car in the dark.  If you’ve put in the time, done the legwork—if you’ve read incessantly, broken your head against the masters (a few of the masters I’ve broken my head against are Donne, Neruda, Herbert, Taylor, Milton, Vallejo, Tranströmer, Bishop, Šalamun, Eliot, Stevens, Plath, Moore, Berryman), studied both traditional and nontraditional forms and found a way to let the world reflect more than just the self—then all the parts should be there, just waiting to be put in their places.   But finding the right parts and putting them in the right places, Ay Mi! 

2/
I begin by groping for a word, a particularly juicy piece of language into which I can jag my teeth.  Remember James Schuyler, from “The Morning of the Poem”?

So many lousy poets
So few good ones
What’s the problem?
No innate love of
Words, no sense of
How the thing said
Is in the words, how
The words are themselves
The thing said: love,
Mistake, promise, auto
Crack-up, color, petal,
The color in the petal
Is merely light
and that’s refraction:
A word, that’s the poem.

A word like “nimiety,” for example, a sixteenth-century noun meaning “excess, redundancy, superfluity” (from the classical Latin, “nimietas,” the higher-toned cousin of “nimious,” an adjective meaning “considerable, great, excessive”).  Feel its sudden up-tick, its gradual stepping down, its falling away?   Or “bubaline,” “of or pertaining to antelopes,” the nineteenth-century adjectival form of the fifteen-century noun “bubal,” “an ox-like antelope.”  See how it bounds at you an instant and then slows a bit, gets quiet, becomes uncertain-almost-furtive?

Once I have my word (or, if I’m lucky, words), I look out the window; I take a walk; I look around me to see if what’s in my head will snag on something—the vines growing on my back fence, say, (a nimiety of vines!) or the three antelope I saw grazing this morning, the moon still up, on a hill just past the western edge of town.  If the snag happens, I sit down and start groping for syntax, which is a kind of lever, a fulcrum that allows me to accomplish the heavy lifting of images, metaphors.  The better the syntax, the crisper, the more productively complex, the more intricate the images I can render, the more precise I can become. 

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