cover image When There Was Light

When There Was Light

Carlie Hoffman. Four Way, $17.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-954245-42-6

The wrenching and intimate second collection from Hoffman (after This Alaska) is rich with tight, lyrical poems that consider difficult subjects, such as mental health (“the gene/ of neuroticism that gorges/ on a mind”) and declining physical health (“The blood/ in his heart is leaking as though/ blood is water sliding slowly/ down the spine from wet hair/ after plunging in a cold and gleaming/ stream when he was just a boy”), antisemitism, alcoholism, and the daily struggle to name what cannot be named (“There must be a word for the lack/ of words for the things we have felt all/ our lives, but couldn’t name”). Silence in its many forms (“Did my family ever/ speak to one another” and “in this world I imagine/ my dead cousins dancing in a landscape”) is challenged. There is also defiance in these pages (“You’ve watched her, dead/ center of the cornfield,/ and it can’t be taken,/ her body bold/ with moonlight, laid bare”). It lands as a multifaceted and meditative look at the lasting powers of memory. (Mar.)