Jay Hopler’s poems have appeared most recently, or are forthcoming, in The New Republic, Slate and Subtropics. His first book of poems, Green Squall, was chosen by Louise Glück as the winner of the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. He has been also the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters/the American Academy in Rome. He is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Florida and is at work on his second book of poems, The Rooster King. His poem “So Many Birds to Kill and So Few Stones” appears on KROnline.
Tell us a little about your KR piece. How was it written? What was the hardest part about writing it?
“So Many Birds to Kill and So Few Stones” is a section of a much larger poem entitled “The Rooster King” on which I have been working since 2006. It’s hard for me to say what was the hardest part about writing it, because every thing about writing it was difficult: finding the correct form, negotiating both the lyric and the narrative impulses, mixing dictions and keeping it as dynamic and dramatic as possible. It was written in fits and starts over a period of, maybe, three years, starting out as a series of journal entries and then morphing into a prose piece, then into a long lineated narrative poem, then into a collection of fragments. Finally, just a few months ago, it became what it is now and what I hope it will remain.
What have you learned about the writing process in the last five years?
What I have learned about the writing process in the last five years is this: the writing process must change constantly, otherwise you just keep writing the same poems you’ve always written. The process that produced my first book, Green Squall, is proving to be absolutely useless in the composition of The Rooster King, the book I’m currently working on. The poems in The Rooster King are elegiac, meditative, and the verbal pyrotechnics and high-flailing emotionality that characterized Green Squall don’t ring correctly in the new context. In order to write the new poems, I’ve had to throw out almost all of my old techniques and come up with new ones. It’s proving to be unimaginably difficult, but writing poetry should be difficult.
Apart from this one—can you share with us the literary magazines you most look forward to reading, and why?
I read as many literary magazines as I can. I read American Poetry Review regularly, because the writing is consistently interesting and because they publish a fair amount of poetry in translation. Iowa Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry International, Subtropics and The Journal are also among my favorites. I’m always surprised by the work I find in their pages.
In the 1950’s, John Crowe Ransom invited a coterie of critics (William Empson, Northrop Frye, etc.) to write a “credo” for The Kenyon Review. The results became an essay series by 10 leading critics on their core beliefs regarding literature and the critical practice, entitled “My Credo.” What would you include in your own credo? What core beliefs do you have about literature and books?
There is no such thing as a synonym.
Tell us about a teacher (“teacher” construed broadly!) who has been important to your writing.
Italy. The year I spent at the American Academy in Rome has proven to be the single most important thing to happen to my writing to date. Being with such incredible people—architects and landscape architects, painters, writers, sculptors, scholars, art historians, musicians and composers—and being surrounded by that much art, culture and history, changed the way I move through the world. Not to mention learning new languages! Before moving to Rome, I couldn’t speak a single foreign language. Now, I speak two and a dialect. Learning those languages has changed the way I read, the way I write, the way I think about language.