A Review of Jay Hopler’s Green Squall
by Carrie Moniz
Never before had I been so intensely present in a garden as I was when I made the journey with Jay Hopler. The sky was unbelievably blue, the shade was fleeting and “leaf-laced,” and the light was almost too heavy to bear. The moment readers pass through the gates into the lush pages of Green Squall they will hear the faint click behind them and realize they are locked in for the duration.
Hopler’s playfulness with language balances the tremendous weight of heat, loneliness, and despair that plagues and makes a prison of his garden. The “lizarding” grass, the “vampired” moon, the “pornographic asphalt,” set the stage for the experiences and emotions that are at once beautiful and binding; sensual and maddening.
The brutal Floridian climate becomes something much more in these pages: an oppressive force, a living, breathing myth, a reason to live and wish, too, for an end. These understandings, as Hopler points out in Academic Discourse at Miami: Wallace Stevens and the Domestication of Light, were overlooked by Stevens, who only “visit[ed] once in a while”:
More violent, than Stevens knew—
It gets inside your head and shreds
Things, dismantles memory, shorts out the will; even now, at six
of a Friday evening, the light here in
Banging, rattling buildings, burning through the park’s green pelt.
This never happens in a Stevens poem.
Stevens’ are not the only perceptions challenged by Hopler. There are several instances when he questions and refutes his own claims and ideas. In the sequence On Hunger and Human Freedom, parts 2 and 7 revisit those immediately preceding them. In part 2 the previous concept of a cardinal being “Lean and summer-hungry” is challenged: “Summer-hungry, can that be right? / I didn’t think things went hungry in the summer.” This is a refreshing technique—one that suggests to the reader that Hopler writes what comes first to his mind about observations and experiences, then re-examines those ideas without erasing what was instinctive. In part 7, he again leaves the instinctive intact, but instead of questioning it he makes a more profound realization, and changes the word “suffice” to “sacrifice.”
The burden of memory and the past is another weighty theme of this collection. The poem, That Light One Finds in Baby Pictures begins with the line, “Being born is a shame—,” and ends with, “The picture—. No, the baby’s blurry.” The loss of innocence, of a time when one was cared for and nurtured above all else, is expressed in terms of the light in the photos being “old / And pale and hurt—.” It’s as if the essence of the being—the baby in the photo—has been damaged and faded by light and time. Whether porch light or flashbulb; sun, moon, or stars; one can see and feel light invading then retracting from Hopler’s writing like apparitions.
Cardinals, goddesses, wildflowers, light. All of these things are seeming apparitions in the world Hopler has laid down for us in this collection. He pays such careful attention to brief moments—passing clouds and shadows, falling leaves, field mice, and silence—every molecule seems to take on a life of its own.
The poems are so full of sensation, connection, and vitality; one can’t help but hear and see things lurking in shadows, in parking lots, under shrubs. The constant questioning and revisiting makes the reader wonder if what he or she has just read was a dream, or even the slow unraveling of a madman. Other times, reality flies from the page with a quick slap: a fly drowning in beer, “Black as a zero is useless.” And such moments of reality inspire the mind to wonder at such bold statements. A zero, a representation of nothingness, is immensely significant when combined with other numbers. A fly is essential to the process of decay and disposal. A man, alone, often suffers from feeling he has no purpose—that he might as well go the way of the drowning fly. But in noticing the fly’s struggle, relating to it, documenting it, he has given its life and death new purpose.
Throughout its entirety, Green Squall, meanders laboriously through a garden of melancholy, of tragic beauty, of sodden oppression. It stops to watch the bees. It stops to see the leaves pool at the bases of trunks and stalks; to watch shadows lengthen across the lawn. It sits awhile and ponders the different intensities of light given off by daisies and stars. It wonders about the tragic nature of freedom. And in the end the consistent voice—haunted and painfully aware—realizes it is buried in the garden from which it bloomed.
This book is a must for anyone who wants to rescue nature from the stagnant pool of cliché. It digs and digs until it reaches the roots of each thought, each association, each pain, each beauty. It is a simultaneous uncovering of a deeper life and the digging of a grave.