Jay Hopler's Green Squall

A Review by Michelle Galo


            Jay Hopler's first book of poems, published by the Yale Series of Younger Poets, is a deeply introspective volume.  Both craftsman and comic, Hopler creates a voice and character that speaks from many memorable poems.

            With catchy openers like “Being born is a shame—” and “I have no beef with Wallace Stevens,” Hopler draws the reader into his conversational poems; insofar as these poems are conversations with the self, they invite the reader to become a part of the mind of the poem, to participate in discourses of grief and self-doubt, curiosity and delight.

            Hopler incorporates the tradition of capitalizing the first letter of each line, even in extreme enjambments like “In the corners, // In the corn- / Ices, // The eaves?”  This small aesthetic choice does a lot to unify the collection visually throughout a variety of line structures.

            Light plays a central role in Green Squall.  Nearly every poem touches it in some way.  Some  are explicit about it, like “That Light One Finds In Baby Pictures,” and “Academic Discourse at Miami: Wallace Stevens and the Domestication of Light.”  Others contain more subtle references.  The sequence “Of Hunger and Human Freedom,” touches on the quirks of visual perception; a woman in a red dress and a trapped cardinal juxtapose in the speaker's mind, leading to a sequence of meditations on desire and free will.

            The self-deprecating voice in these poems sometimes hovers just on the border between funny and awkward.  Some readers will no doubt have a lesser tolerance for it than others.  Lines such as “What have I done, Mother / that I should spend my life / alone?” will make some readers laugh, others cringe, and still others cock their heads to the side and mutter, Can he do that?  In “The Frustrated Angel,” Hopler raises self-deprecation to comic-opera form with the help of his Angel, the only other voice in this sparsely-peopled collection:


I see what they mean, Hopler –

                                              one really does get tired of you.


He wants to know how often I've been mistaken for a shrub.


            In addition to his comedic sensibilities, Hopler's great strengths are his ear for rhythm and his ability to make poetry out of intellectual pondering and introspective meandering, such as these musical musings from “Academic Discourses”:


                       Florida's light is far more aggressive, far

More violent, than Stevens knew –


                                              It gets inside your head and shreds

Things, dismantles memory, shorts out the will;


            ...in which the internal rhymes, heavy enjambment, and pulsing iambic-anapestic meter intensify the speaker's description of Florida's light.

            Other characters are few and far between in Green Squall: the Angel, the foggy shape of the speaker's mother and father, a woman in red who reminds him of a trapped cardinal.  The majority of these poems, even the ones in which other people surface, are heavily introspective.  Green Squall is a book of solitude, unto its final lines:

                       I could be buried here.  That is,

I am – , I am buried.


            In craft, voice, and unity, Green Squall is a success and an exciting debut.