I’m about to be Captain Obvious, although I also sometimes call myself Captain Oblivious but, you know, as long as my rank remains Captain, there’s no issue. Reading poetry is a totally different experience than reading any other type of literature. That’s pretty obvious, no?
Poetry well done morphs into a different experience for each reader depending on their experiences and viewpoints. And the reason why I mention this is because I have sat on Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey for about three or so weeks, rereading, and realizing that lines speak differently to me depending on where I was at. And even now, I’m formulating my review as I go because Captain Oblivious has also arrived on the scene and reminds me of how intimidating I find reviewing poetry to be, but unless you do it you’ll never learn.
February 9, 2022
With Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey, James Hoch gives readers a heart-lugged romp and a work of resistance, conversing with the interstices of public and personal histories and identities in the context of ecological deterioration. Drawing on emotional experiences prompted by his brother’s going to war in Afghanistan, the death of his mother from ovarian cancer, and the raising of his sons, Hoch investigates the difficulty of loving and of making beauty in times of crisis when faced with knowledge of its limitations and necessity. Lyrical and meditative, intense and intimate, his poems evoke landscapes with views of the New York water supply system, industrialization along the Hudson River, and the geology of the Palouse in the Pacific Northwest.
A bare-knuckled argument for the sublime in the context of war and environmental degradation, Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey asserts the redemptive power of art as survival.
The poems in James Hoch’s Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey fell into two categories for me. Those that were readily accessible and those that weren’t. I put down inaccessibility to my own education, the structured kind and the self-explored.
The poems most accessible and therefore the ones I enjoyed most were those connected to relationships, father, mother, brother, son. I think the fact that Hoch is my contemporary–age-wise–helped me relate to a certain vision. And, at this point in life, deaths come more often and the emotions surrounding them are inevitably more complicated.
Even with Hoch’s perhaps complicated relationship or vision of his father, he writes:
I was afraid my body would fly open,The Listening
a blizzard of wings, that if I gave up
grieving, he’d die all over again.
And I love the way “The Listening” begins:
Snow again, I can’t hear it falling
in birches, yard, garden beds, heady
tufts and root down of winter carrots,
though I stare out there, as if
listening to the making.
Can’t you feel the starkness of the silently falling snow and how the silence and cold mirror death?
In “Parking Garage,” the reader immediately feels the shock of a mother’s death, the wandering lost into a parking garage to find a car, the unreality/reality of the moment when nothing will ever be the same again, but the need to find the car and drive it carefully away.
My favorite poem is probably “Sunflowers.” It begins with father and son examining a Van Gogh portrait and then evolves into relationships, loss, the poet’s brother in Afghanistan patrolling a field of sunflowers. It’s a beautiful mix of the commonplace and extraordinary, of the power of moments, and conversations in which silence speaks.
Even as I go through my kindle notes about the poems, I become lost in phrasings of a different poem and think, I should write about this one too. This is a collection that keeps on giving and I have no doubt that I will re-read for the fourth or fifth time in the next few days.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.