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  • Re, Repeat, Re-ensure
  • Renee Risher (bio)
Sonnet 56. Paul Hoover. Les Figues Press. 81 pages; paper, $15.00.

On the mantle of potential literatures poses a set of Russian nesting dolls: a William Shakespeare inside a Raymond Queneau inside a Paul Hoover. For this collection, Sonnet 56, Hoover reforms Shakespeare's 56th sonnet 8(7) times in the tradition of Raymond Queneau, the co-founder of the group Oulipo (Workshop for Potential Literatures). In 1947, the year following Hoover's birth, Gallimard published Queneau's Exercises in Style. It was a clever and refreshing readdressing of poetic form through a retelling of a simple story 9(11) times. In this most recent collection of poems, Hoover redresses 2 poets to create an irreverent and humorous lesson in poetic form with both contemporary and traditional relevance.

Hoover has chosen to create multiple versions of a Shakespearian sonnet, and one that is preoccupied with a commonplace and familiar content. The author is iconic, and as a subject, the "spirit of love" in its simultaneous states of sharpness or dullness is mundane and not subjectively confrontational ("Tomorrow see again, and do not kill / The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness"). One can assume from these choices that Hoover has no wish to challenge the reader's frame of reference, much like Queneau's banal story of a man entering and exiting a bus is familiar, relatable, and forgettable. The dullness of love's appetite is not the focus, but it is the material which is formed and used by the author to illustrate the various purposes and powers of poetic constraints. Shakespeare is only a minor player in this Hooverian creation. Art that addresses form explicitly is often a direct commentary on the art itself. No longer is the reader caught in the oceanic separations and reunions of love, he/she is free to negotiate the shape, size, volume, pattern of the poem. Hoover has created a formally reflective text that readdresses the poetic lessons of the Exercises in Style.

Included among his school of poems, Hoover reforms Shakespeare according to other traditional poetic forms like the haiku, tanka, and villanelle. In Tanka, "Love, renew your force. / Blunt appetite with feeding; / Eyes wink with fullness," an overlap of traditional forms highlights the awkward conglomeration of metaphors of the original sonnet. In this rendition and many others in the collection, it is entertaining to find oneself not questioning Hoover's prowess as a poet, but Shakespeare's instead. There is a sweet irreverence contained in this overthrow of the iconic. In one mode, using Shakespeare, and reshaping the sonnet in the styles of other well-known poets such as in versions 33. Celan , "When love returns, the dark is ready," or again with 34. Rilke, "All eyes are hungry, betraying desperate need. / But no god knows what an angel is thinking," could be constructed as an earnest honoring of these popular writers, but in this collection, the mimicry disrobes all parties involved, and the reader laughs as Hoover chuckles. Not to exclude the fact that these 2 versions come sandwiched between the laugh-out-loud Answering Machine and the smiling Mathematical. The laughter appears to be calculated.

Like Exercises, as a collection, Sonnet 56 presents itself as an ideal text for the classroom, an undergrad's guide to the utility of form. Workshop, the fiftieth representation of the sonnet, is written in the form of a classroom scene from a community college that quickly degenerates into personalities hijacking the day's lesson, "Randy: Love's not a knife. That's stupid." Hoover chooses to reference educational matters in three versions, acknowledging that Shakespeare's works are teaching texts and acknowledging the pedagogical nature of the assignment that he has given himself. In this case, the lessons of the day may be contained in the reenactment of Queneau's method to which end we are left to study and question.

Exercises in Style was written in 1947, at the end of two world wars, and the Oulipo, as a group was founded in 1960, and they could be viewed like the intellectually jesting movements that they represent (Dadaism and...


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