There I am on the back patio at Linda's, sitting in a warm breeze, looking at the stars, admiring the paint-by-numbers nature scene on the east wall, drinking, when a figure in the crowd emerges and assembles into the recognizable shape of a friend, a serious reader, flawless in her taste, the person who turned me on to M.F.K. Fisher, Dawn Powell, Paula Fox. Look at this, you have to read this, she's saying. I love it when she says this. Isn't this incredible? It's their humor issue. Look at the cover. She is holding the July/August issue of the journal Peotry. Below its big misspelled title—it's usually spelled correctly—are small drawings (a bird in a small hat, a fat man laughing) with captions that read, counterclockwise, "VERY," "VERY," "FUNNY," and "INDEED!" and, in the center, a larger drawing of a woman wearing an orange and pink dress, a blank expression, and a fez, holding a piece of paper on which is written: "I FEEL A SENSE OF DREAD."
And look inside! You know who's in there? Rebecca Hoogs! From Seattle Arts & Lectures! It's true. There is Hoogs's name, mixed in with a bunch of names that jump out, like Billy Collins and John Updike and Paul Muldoon, as well as a lot of names that don't. Hoogs is awesome. She's also in the May issue. Poetry is the one that Ruth Lilly left all that money to a couple years ago. Isn't it great? You should write about it. Want to borrow it? It's too dark to read out here.
The next day I read Hoogs's poem on a bus. It's called "Another Plot Cliché" and it's written from the point of view of a plate-glass window. ("My dear, you are the high-speed car chase, and I,/I am the sheet of glass being carefully carried/across the street...") Barely three lines in, my head fills with associations: Stendhal's quote about a mirror ("A novel is a mirror that strolls along a highway"), the opening lines of Nabokov's Pale Fire ("I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/by the false azure of the windowpane.../Uncurtaining the night, I'd let dark glass/Hang all the furniture above the grass"), the opening image in Adam Haslett's short story "The Beginnings of Grief" ("A van full of sheet glass going 40 miles an hour hit the driver's side... [M]y father died with the first shattering impact").
Hoogs's glass, "a bright lure," is the second cliché (the first is the "high-speed car chase") in a sort of paint-by-numbers arrangement of clichés of all shapes and sizes, some obvious, some hard to locate. For the poet, this is a convenient strategy—if a line or an image seems hollow, well, maybe it's supposed to be hollow, smart guy—but the end of the poem is awesome, glittery, and earned. Here's the buildup: "[Y]ou come careening, you being/both cars, both chaser and chased... I know I'm done for..." Here's the end: "No matter, I'd rather shatter/than be looked through all day. So come careening; I know/you've other clichés to hammer home: women with groceries/to send spilling, canals to leap as the bridge is rising./And me? I'm so through. I've got a thousand places to be."