Monday, April 21, 2008

Gold Star Road. Richard Hoffman

Gold Star Road. Richard Hoffman. ( Barrow Street PO BOX 1831 Murray Hill Station NY 10156) $25.

Review by Doug Holder

There damn well should be a poem for a doorman, a poem that celebrates in-your-face blue-collar wisdom, and a poem that sings for the many unsung Gold Star Roads
(Designated roads where soldiers killed in the line of duty lived and are memorialized), in far flung communities across the country. And poet/memoirist Richard Hoffman is just the man for the job. If you read Hoffman’s acclaimed memoir “Half the House…” you would know that he sprung from a hardscrabble working class background, and has had more than his share of sorrows over the years. This is not some freshly scrubbed MFA churning out another unearned angst-laden collection. Hoffman has walked the walk, and has been around the block several times. But unlike these tired clich├ęs his work is original and evocative.

I’m no scholar and I respond to poetry on a very gut and emotional level. So a poem like “ Summer Job” speaks to me. It brings out my sense of longing: for my youth, and that no-nonsense type of guy who befriended me and cut through all the crap and posturing we all engage in, in this hyperactive society. In this poem “Summer Job” Hoffman remembers a grizzled boss from his early years who proved to be an unexpected font of wisdom. The poem is so tight and cohesive it would be a disservice not to quote it in full:


“The trouble with intellectuals,” Manny, my boss
once told me, “ is that they don’t know nothing
till they can explain it to themselves. A guy like that,”
he said, “ he gets to middle age;--and by the way,
he gets there late; he’s trying to be a boy until
he’s forty, forty-five, and then give him five
more years till that craziness peters out, and now
he’s almost fifty—a guy like that at last explains
to himself that life is made of time, that time
is what’s all about. Aha! he says. And then
he either blows his brains out, gets religion,
or settles down to some major-league depression.
Make yourself useful. Hand me that three –eights
torque wrench—no, you moron, the other one.”

There is a lot of other great work to recommend this collection of course. “ Airfare” deals with a chance encounter the poet had at an airport with a man he knew when he was young. The encounter consists of a “brittle conversation,” but the memories the meeting evokes releases a flood of perceptions about the confusion and continuum of life:

“I wondered at how we change,
inhibit, inhabit one another;
friends, enemies, teachers lovers,
neighbors, students…

was trying to find, through layers
of scratched Plexiglass and drifting
clouds, a sign of where we were
and how much farther we had to go…”

Gold Star Road is a five star collection in my book. And Hoffman is a star of a poet.

Doug Holder

* This review will appear in the May 2008 issue of "Fight These Bastards"

*Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbteson Street Press. His two most recent poetry collections are: “ No One Dies at the Au Bon Pain” ( sunnyoutside) and “Of All The Meals I Had Before” ( Cervena Barva Press)

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