Strange Relation

Hall’s first book, Hermit with Landscape, was chosen for the Yale Series of Younger Poets; and this, his second book, is a winner of the 1995 National Poetry Series (selected by Mark Doty). But in Hall’s poetic world, things never proceed quite so gratifyingly; family interactions, in particular, are strained and complex. Or, as he puts it in the title poem, “You know how the first micro-/ second of sugar’s message might be salt?” The collection is sprinkled with small pleasures. An ode to “Coca-Cola” smacks of Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar.” A sad villanelle, “Interior,” blends an Asian stoicism with television: “A leaf falls from the bonsai tree:/ ancient instructions trickle through./ There’s a man in tears on TV.” Stevens and Asia, where the poet spent a year as an Amy Lowell Traveling Scholar, are constant presences in this work. TV sets, too, are ubiquitous, playing the role of deus ex machina in several of the poems, as in “The View from Here,” in which the tube in Mrs. Hu’s apartment across the hall sends the roar of a soccer crowd into the poet’s lonely room.

Selected by

Mark Doty