Hidden Surfaces of Love: Jill Hoffman's Black Diaries
Box Turtle Press, 2000.
90 pages, $10 (paperback).
Jill Hoffman's second volume of poems, Black Diaries, brings together poems published in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies, including The New Yorker, Partisan Review, and Roth's Poetry Annual. The editor of Mudfish, Hoffman has taught at Bard, Barnard, and Brooklyn College, and currently teaches out of her home.
Aptly titled, the poems in this collection have the compact, unguarded, transgressive language of a relationship diary. Most explore erotic feelings and disclose both the tangles of desire and the scouring, complicated wounds that mark us, as in the brief "Regret":
Mother, when I dress him
as a woman I love him.
I wish I hadn't thrown away
some of your old girdles.
The danger of confessional poetry is that of aggrandizement and indirect ambition, and this collection is not wholly free of this. However, the expressionist lurch of Hoffman's syntax and imagery redeems what might have been lost to vanity. I found myself thinking of the hidden surfaces Rodin left buried when he worked two figures out of a stone, of the surfaces opened up between two people when they have touched, in which there is not articulation but a dense unfinished possibility. And I found myself thinking of the way honesty is often effected by the application of a tourniquet, as in the poem "2 Oct" which Hoffman begins in adumbration:
Laundry. Recipes. Mice. My daughter
is away and my mind begins to fill
the house. Unbelievable. I am.
And ends with precise, disparate description:
At dawn we swim in the pool of the college that fired me.
I wear my hair unbraided so that he will not pull it.
This balance of clean decision and difficult feeling is, finally, thrilling.