Jay Hopler's Green Squall is the winner of the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. As Louise Glück observes in her foreword, “Green Squall begins and ends in the garden”; however, Hopler’s gardens are not of the seasonal variety evoked by poets of the English lyric—his gardens flourish at lower, fiercer latitudes and in altogether different mindscapes. There is a darkness in Hopler’s work as deep and brutal as any in American poetry. Though his verbal extravagance and formal invention bring to mind Wallace Stevens’s tropical extrapolations, there lies beneath Green Squall’s lush tropical surfaces a terrifying world in which nightmare and celebration are indistinguishable, and hope is synonymous with despair.
Despite the clutter of recent poetry contests, the Yale Series of Younger Poets remains the most prestigious, and Hopler's work is an excellent addition to a list that's included James Wright, Adrienne Rich, and Carolyn Forche. Most innovative poets play with language to arrive at vision, but Hopler does the opposite, playing with vision until landing on the proper words, which still don't seem enough. In "Of Hunger and Human Freedom," the masterly long poem that comprises the book's second section, he continually "revisits." In its opening section he describes either a woman or a bird spotted in the parking lot: "A cardinal, I think it was-Lean and summer-hungry." And in the next section: "Summer-hungry, can that be right?/ I didn't think things went hungry in the summer." He takes an extremely pessimistic worldview, but the bitter, self-incriminating humor never fails to enliven. Moreover, the infinite moments he depicts in the world around him make readers stop, breathe deeply, and take a second look. It's the minutiae that what foil him: "I'd like a new/ way of experiencing the world." Hopefully, he'll carry his unique vision along with him. Highly recommended.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.