“The written stone rests / in the unwritten river; / Unwritten rain is falling / over the written town.”
“It’s astonishing to think how many things remain unnamed and go therefore unnoticed,” Creative Writing Professor Paul Hoover says as he reads “Written,” a poem from his new collection, The Book of Unnamed Things (MadHat Press). The collection has several sources of inspiration, the first being language and meaning itself. The first seven poems have titles like “The Darkness of the Subjunctive” and “First Language.”
The title of the book is itself a conundrum. Do things change as soon as we name them? And then there are words like “shod” that a new generation may not be able to identify, even though they’re wearing shoes. Another inspiration was to create new poetic forms or constraints. The book’s final poem, “Audience in the Dark,” was written under the constraint of producing an entire book in a single day.
“Using a small marble memo note pad of 40 pages, I put onto each page just enough language to secure that page,” Hoover says. “By the end of the day, I had written an entire book, albeit miniature.”
Hoover and Gillian Conoley will read from their poetry June 14 from 7pm to 8pm at Moe’s Books in Berkeley.
Translation of María Baranda’s book-length poems
Hoover also translated two book-length poems of the Mexican poet María Baranda, “Narrar (To Tell)” and “Yegua nocturna corriendo en un prado de luz absoluta (Nightmare Running on a Meadow of Absolute Light).” Shearsman Books of Bristol, England, recently published them in a book titled Nightmare Running on a Meadow of Absolute Light.
“I first met Baranda at a poetry conference in Rosario, Argentina, in 2007, and was impressed with the surging force of her voice in reciting her poems, which are often long and concerned with essential matters such as sea, sun and wind forming into a solar cry,” Hoover says.
Yegua nocturna is somewhat experimental, in that the words of the great poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz are lodged, in boldface, in Baranda’s sentences, which themselves tend toward the fragmentary.
Hoover’s translation of Yegua nocturna won a PEN/Heim Translation Award in 2014.
Hoover has a rich body of work, including 16 poetry collections, two of which were published in Mexico and Venezuela. He has also published Fables of Representation: Essays (University of Michigan Press, 2004) and the novel Saigon, Illinois (Vintage Contemporaries, 1988), a chapter of which appeared in The New Yorker. Translations include Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin (with San Francisco State Professor Maxine Chernoff, Omnidawn, 2008) and, with Nguyen Do, Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008) and Beyond the Court Gate: Selected Poems of Nguyen Trai (Counterpath Press, 2010).
Hoover is also the editor of the anthology Postmodern American Poetry (W. W. Norton, 1994; 2nd Edition, 2013) and editor of the annual literary magazine New American Writing. Previously employed at Columbia College Chicago, where he founded a number of programs and Columbia Poetry Review, he has taught at San Francisco State since 2003.
— Ufuoma Umusu
Photo courtesy of Paul Hoover. Image of book cover courtesy of MadHat Press. Video by Sreang Hok.