The title of Paul Hoover’s Edge and Fold suggests that the lines of poetry that run through the book approach the limit of the page (the edge) or are cut off in mid-utterance by a fold in the page. In either case, the contemplative fragments are assembled in small piles and often feel like cut-ups. However, the fragments themselves are often lent an aphoristic quality as well. Yet the term aphorism doesn’t seem quite apt either. The assembled fragments that beg for contemplation are more incomplete, more like koans. Yes, in Edge and Fold we have an admixture of cut-ups and koans.
This characterization is somewhat disingenuous, for it is quite reductive. The piles of lines that are assembled in the first section of the book (entitled “Edge and Fold” and which is comprised of 49 short contemplative pieces) do not just stand alone as lines that either do or do not enjamb with the following line. The short pieces are often whole unto themselves with a movement that carries the reader safely down the page despite some daring leaping from rock to rock.
The contemplative space carved out by these short poems is not just a space of objects and abstractions. Often literary or other cultural figures make their presence felt within the almost prayerful space created. During the first ten sections alone references to Fassbinder, Miles Davis and Zeno’s arrow are made. These references make the poems seem like prayers made to or for the benefit of others, other cultural figures whom Hoover has deemed worthy of letting them camp out in his head. The question remains what kind of god might listen to such utterances.
Certainly it must be a god somewhat interested in puzzles.
VIII: edge and fold / the raiment of the field / / the harrow breaks it down / harrow of sight // with its articulations / nothing is in passion // when all is in belief / the world keeps turning // to face the burning sun
The voice that is speaking here (if one would even venture to call it that) seems to be devoid of passion. Nothing seems urgent about its articulation. All desire seems to have been vacuumed out of the world. Desire and its compulsion for a speaker to interact with the world have been displaced by belief, a mental operation. Yet mysteriously the world keeps turning in this state to face the sun, the source of all life, the source of all desire in the universe. The poem seems to be some sort of hazy commentary on the mortal combat between desire and belief.
The theme of the difficulty in trying to connect to the substance of life also occurs in segment XI.
XI: he loved the mechanisms / of wire and device // tipsy monuments / gadgets of craft // and this of all things / the most uncertain // an effortless pursuit / of everything he knows // along the coast of meaning / where structure is momentum // and life tries to keep him / in the tuning of a sequence
This almost seems to be a character description of a netizen. The copious amount of engagement with the transcendent puts the real substantial life at a disadvantage. It can’t compete (even though life has as its own ambitions to keep people in tune with it). From this little prayer-like sample, it is clear that God must be Google, where more and more people take respite and seek wisdom every day.
This fragment is where Hoover introduces his epistemological frame. In this series of poems he is concerned about knowing, in particular how the mind inscribes the nothing and in the end inhabits intelligible thought, intellection.
from XIII: the more abstract it is / a cloud of unknowing // crosses all my minds / what reason for knocking // at an empty house / what reason for staying
The series is greatly concerned with affairs of the mind. Already for some poets this may be a reason to look for an offramp. Many poets whose main criterion for reading poems is to recognize desire and feeling in the world may become uneasy at the prospect of meandering through Hoover’s thinking selves and spaces. If this were to be the case, this would be unfortunate. Desire in the world without its counterpart of thought directing said desire is almost as entertaining to watch as dogs striving to rip meat out of each others mouths (I freely admit I don’t get the appeal of ultimate fighting).
For many readers a poem that is not explicit about what its intentions are, a poem that is not up front about its desire, is a poem that is not worth reading. In this, Hoover echoes their sentiments by asking what purpose there is in knocking at an empty house, furthermore, what purpose is there in staying at such a house. But just as one would discover many things about the desire that once may have nicked walls, damaged countertops, scratched window frames, stained cutting boards by entering into an empty house, one can also come to peruse the artifacts of the house of Paul Hoover.
So what kind of house is this that Hoover has built with “Edge and Fold”?
It is a house that is, too, quite barren. That is for sure. It is a house where one’s perceptions slowly begin to inhabit it. How one comes to know these occupying items is through cognition, that nearly inscrutable table game where everyone’s tokens scramble after the next play. It is the tale of the meaning machine, the human mind that has let everyone come to know it a little bit better through its addiction to language.