Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lynda Hull

I continue to be inspired by the poetry of Lynda Hull. I first saw one of her poems on the Poetry Daily website, and I'm so glad that I did. I can still read only about five of her poems at a time, and then I am overwhelmed by the images and the rhythm and the violence and the sadness (so much longing!) and the unflinching clarity. The images are excruciatingly precise. To me, she works with words in the same way that Edward Hopper works with light. Each offers a look into a place and a time and an immense loneliness. Or is it solitude?

I was waiting for the bus on my way home from work and watching the cars stream down the boulevard. People were walking by and the lights were changing and the wind was rearranging the grit and old leaves and I thought about the way Ms. Hull's poems pull me in.

She begins by observing as an outsider. She notes small details—visual and emotional textures. Often these details resonate with some other time—maybe even a different place—and she pulls the reader with her. She becomes a part of the place and the time and the poem not by plopping herself down in the middle but by observing from the outside, and the outside draws her and the reader in. I'm not saying this well at all. It's much better to read the work.

There's more. Because I can read so few of her poems at a time, I have quite a bit of bus ride left to think about them. I was reminded of Gregory Orr's four temperaments of poetry: music, imagination, story, and form. As I learned them, they fall into two groups. One group is music and imagination; the other is story and form—and the idea is that the strongest poems should have at least two of these temperaments, one from each group.

Surely Lynda Hull's poems have music—a smoky, hard-edged jazz, a driving momentum. But they also have imagination—an urban wilderness of imagery flying into and out of the mind's darkest admissions. And she tells these bleak stories that are tempered with love and wistfulness. That's three temperaments, and often she uses form—not formal rhyme, but set stanzas.

Lynda Hull died in 1994, but her collected poems were recently published by Graywolf Press. I recommend them.

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