Eclectic poet enthralls Writers House crowd with discussion

The Daily Pennsylvanian
March 19, 1997

Caption text

Paul Hoover, poet and editor, reads selections from his poetry collections at the Kelly Writers House yesterday

Photo by Jennifer Arend/The Daily Pennsylvanian

Discussing his eclectic career as both an editor and poet, Paul Hoover led an informal discussion and poetry reading yesterday at the Kelly Writers House.

Hoover has published six books of poetry, including Veridian -- which won the Georgia Poetry Prize -- in addition to one novel.

Influenced by surrealist poetry and "peripherally" associated with language poetry, Hoover is most strongly tied to the New York school of poets, according to English Professor and poet Bob Perelman. But Perelman added that Hoover established himself as a poet in Chicago.

Hoover discussed his large undertaking in editing the Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology -- hailed by Perelman as "the most significant poetic event in the last decade." He addressed a spectrum of topics, ranging from the anthology's title to the decision to include his own work in the book.

Taking cues from the biographies he composed for each of the poets included in the anthology, Hoover strived to remain objective in writing his own preface.

"I try not to glorify," he joked.

Hoover also recalled his difficulties in deciding what to label the type of poetry he writes for inclusion in the Norton Anthology. Hoover also explained his thoughts on terms such as "postmodern," "avant garde" and "experimental."

"A lot of people challenge 'postmodern'," he said, adding that "'experimental' is a rather flimsy word."

"It invokes concepts of people in lab coats... and little Frankensteins emerging from the laboratory," Hoover said.

Hoover noted that the word "postmodern" is used in the anthology to refer to poetry written after World War II. Many poetic movements -- such as beat, performance and language poetry -- developed at that time and served as an arbitrary separation between modern and postmodern eras.

Adding his thoughts on being part of the "avant-garde" school of poetry, Hoover explained that the poetry lends itself to the "self-marginalization" of the poet. He said much of society at that time was unaccustomed to the eclectic styles of the avant-garde poets.

"Why do you want to create work that appears in its own time to be bad... from the perspective of central culture?" Hoover asked rhetorically, in reference to the avant-garde poets.

Hoover also discussed his wife, Maxine Chernoff, and the inclusion of her poems in the anthology. He noted his wife's switch to prose poetry and the methods he used to choose her selections as well as the others in the book.

"Eligibilities change," he said, adding that if he were to compile another anthology, his wife would "have to drop out."

Hoover works with Chernoff to edit the magazine New American Writing.

Perelman, who introduced Hoover at the poetry reading following the discussion session, applauded the poet's "straightforward and candid" conversation about his editorial work. He praised the poet's writing as "consistently intelligent " and "often quite funny" with "wit ranging from dry to less dry."

"[Hoover] is on the cusps of various poetic groups," Perelman added. "He has an undistorted perspective and a variety of forms... in his content."

"I am a free-range chicken," Hoover said in describing his multi-styled poetry and influences.

Beginning with what he described as small "seed packets" of poems, Hoover read selections from his repertoire. He ended with "sister" poems from his most recent Veridian volume, which Hoover named after a screenplay he wrote for an independent film.

"These poems have a smoky circularity," the poet said.

Philadelphia resident Joanne Lichtman -- one of more than the 20 people who attended the reading -- commended Hoover's "interesting" yet unusual poetry.

Noting her uneasiness with Hoover's postmodern slant, Lichtman added, "I don't know about the experimental dimension... I am used to more formal writing."