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Reviewed by:
  • A Tug of Blue by Eleanor Hooker
  • Bryan C. Chitwood
A Tug of Blue, by Eleanor Hooker, pp. 71. Dublin: The Dedalus Press, 2016. Distributed by Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY. $12.95.

Eleanor Hooker's second volume of poems, A Tug of Blue, is a volume of striking formal and thematic range that confirms—indeed, exceeds—the promise of her lauded first volume, The Shadow Owner's Companion (2012). The poems [End Page 152] situate the reader in "that other land," a land "modulated by worlds at war inside [the] mind." Divided into two sections, the volume traverses external and internal worlds with an almost cartographic impulse, holding the problem of the solipsistic self under a microscope to describe its shifting contours. At times this cartographic impulse manifests itself explicitly, as when, fearing for her father's death, the poet writes, "A map of the Namib Desert grew / on my back." In this poem and elsewhere, Hooker configures tiny maps that rescue us from a fear borne of unknowing by reworking the cardinal orientations of self and other.

Hooker's poems dramatize the ways in which the self encounters itself anew, drawing the reader into contained feedback loops of sensation mediated by history. This history is both civilizational and a personal history of poetic craft and inheritance. Many of the poems, for example, face the struggle of inheritance head on, as in poems in memory of Seamus Heaney and Michael Hartnett, poems after Pablo Naruda and Guy Denning, and in numerous dedications and epigraphs.

Other poems show a studied delight in active intuition borne of skill and experience. Observational pleasures emerge in a precision of form and encyclopedic reference to produce a broad range of tone and structure, spanning from short lyrics and virtuoso formal experiments to "found poems" and prose poems. In a striking coalescence of intuition and exactitude, for example, "The Shout" lends order to the chaos of a sea storm by giving voice, in a tonally masterful reverie, to the internal dialogue of a seasoned ship captain:

The water is bruised purple and black.Our ballast tank full equals the weightof three men in the bow, keeps ournose down as we face the turmoil

    of this inland sea.

As these lines suggest, the volume resists the tug of saccharine commemoration or obtuse sentimentality, working instead to mediate memory and desire through intricately patterned lines and carefully studied tropes.

Formally, Hooker's poems gleam with the polish of a cut gem, as in her pantoum, "Rules of the Game." In what we might read as the volume's programmatic statement, the poem opens and closes, "The first rule is, there are no rules," and the lines within that formal embrace yield a freedom that emerges brilliantly from within the repetitive strictures of the pantoum—a freedom not to break the rules, but to luxuriate in the emergence of form as a prison of one's own choosing. She writes,

Yes, your opponent may well be yourself,puzzling rules applied to a single player re-creation [End Page 153] battling the formidable opposition of selfin a game of charades. Resist the temptation

to puzzle rules applied to a single player re-creation.

This poem's self emerges as a puzzle of object and action. The prison of one's choosing turns out be a prison of self-recognition as it encounters the prison of circumstance, the meeting of which opens out onto broad lyric vistas that produce paradoxical qualities of expansiveness and restraint.

Hooker weaves intricate linguistic textures in lines that can prove disorienting but which, at their most effective, also dramatize the topography of internal life with dexterity. In "The House of Silence," we meet "a man whose watercolour / eyes leaked turf-stained rivers, / rivers that flowed nightly through his dreams." This topography, which is both inside and outside, observer and observed, becomes a cypher, the poems crypts of meaning, as in the poem, "Encrypted," where the traumatic loss of a twin becomes a search for self through mythic memory.

In other poems, memory and identity are configured as the work of substantive craft within a space of inevitable return, and the...


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