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W.D. Snodgrass photo courtesy of Peter Connors an earlier, more innocent time of mom-and-pop stores, friendly neighborhoods, cities that ended abruptly at their suburbs with little or no sprawl, trains that ran on time, and dads who came home for lunch. The oldtime, Norman Rockwell world that held experience together shattered early on, and they were caught between strong cultural winds tearing America from Europe even as U.S. universities clung to their ties with England and the Old World. Pop culture celebrated consumerism, and the city became a landscape of neon advertising and office towers, with ordinary citizens pushed out to the suburbs. The center was missing for all three men, who made up for it by writing impassioned lyrics on loss and the desire to cope by finding spiritual consolation in art, if not in life. Their poetry was a kind of flashlight in the gloom, a way of getting back home to wife and family, a shelter of a few beliefs. Hoffman’s book of sonnets, Makes You Stop and Think, opens with “The Sonnet,” in which a famous visiting poet, Louise Bogan, long the poetry editor at The New Yorker, remarks after her reading, “This is a bad time, / bad for poetry.” The kids she reads to want to know about the “poetry of Rock,” not the great tradition; even so, the poem in which her remarks appear is sturdy and lean, a well crafted lyric spasm with an ironic twist at the end. Bogan remarks on the good Irish sheets she slept on the night before. Some things endure, among them the curious, tightly sprung language of a good sonnet, which will weather out its exile in the modern age, the poem tacitly argues. What follows in Hoffman’s 41 other sonnet and sonnet-like poems is a quick tour of his education, well-founded in the English and American classics from Coleridge to Poe, his favorite author, and the subject of his most famous book, Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, after the tintinnabulation of Poe’s poem, “The Bells.” The poems are allusive, ironic, sinewy with taut verbal constructions; like the man himself, these poems are all bones and a little flesh, very spare in their movements. But Hoffman is a master, and his poems can be intimate conversation with the reader, or brief flashes of anger, or touching little episodes from nature, the nature we know as suburbanites living on a fringe of woods. “Wakened by bird calls, I stroll down our lane,” memory lane, that is, as the poet thinks back on his life at 11 years, which triggers Dylan Thomas’ image of the “apple bough,” and the line preceding, “When I was young and easy.” Memory is everywhere in this older man’s thoughts, as in the poem, “0 Sweet Woods,” where he strides “Down my most tangled paths of reverie.” Only to be confronted by a man hauling a “Rock box” the other way, the figure of the menacing future, “reverie’s assassin.” Time’s winged chariot hurries near, he says in “Emblems,” but puts it his own way: “When the mandibles of the clock have gnawed / The journal of another day.” This dated eloquence is intended to locate the poet on the other side of the moment, the far side where things have come to a graceful end, with this friendly, often disarming voice persuading us that the past is not irrelevant or vanished, but lingers as a window into a better time. m not sure why Snodgrass chose to open his handsome selection of old and new work with a bit of selfmockery, “These Trees Stand,” with its well-known refrain, “Snodgrass is walking through the universe.” It’s a kind of Prufrockian poem and sets in motion a voice we might recognize as Charlie Chaplin’s or Woody Allen’s, ironic and selfconscious, but coy, even manipulativean occasionally melodious voice with which he can write movingly about his daughter in the sequence, “Heart’s Needle,” and with leaden humor about his doctoral orals in “The Examination.” The early days were good for Snodgrass; his craftsmanship was notable in a time when, as Denise Levertov complained, any squib written on an envelope \(she poetry. Here was a poet composing on his fingers, tidying up his accents, making the stanzas into elaborate, rhyming mazes in which the thought, modern enough, is a thread running through virtuosity. The dark side of Snodgrass is part of post-Holocaust writing. Theodore Roethke had it, so did James Wright, Robert Bly, James Dickey. A generation had lost its innocence in those images of global mayhem, as in “The Drunken Minstrel Rags his Bluegrass Lute”: Whether I yodel, jive or jazz Blue gives my world the hue it has… Discord and dat makes a bluegrass lute I jams true blue and dat’s da trut’. JANUARY 12, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23