Paul K. Hooker
Resource Publications, 88 pages
Reviewed by Dana Hughes
Of all the poets alive or dead, Paul Hooker is by far and away my favorite. I’ve known the author for many years as a gifted preacher and teacher who reads Scripture in every ancient tongue and speaks its truth in today’s vernacular. That skill alone would seem enough for one person, but not so for Hooker. As it turns out, he’s also a poet — but not the sort of poet who dribbles thoughts across a page in order to exorcise some inky demon. Hooker is a poet with a fire in his bones who pulls threads from the ancient texts and weaves them through the warp and weft of faith and doubt, experience and observation, certainty and supposition. The results are at once lovely and arresting, inviting the reader to grasp the whole and then zoom in for a closer view of the individual fibers in all their astonishing complexity.
Hooker’s style is eclectic; on one page he plays with traditional poetic formulae just because he can, and on the next he veers into the imagistic realm where a seat belt and crash helmet are required. With every method he employs, his work is loaded with meaning, every word having been weighed, faceted and polished. The only thing predictable about his method is how very unpredictable it is.
Hooker describes his work as an attempt to “expose the underlying sacredness of events that form the liturgy of living and to do so with sensitivity toward mystery, wonder, and occasionally suspicion.” Like all great poets, Hooker is describing what he seeks as well as what he sees, and having sought and found, he bears witness, allowing us to do the same. Two poems that must be read in one sitting are “Judas’ Soliloquy” and “At The Font.” In the first, we stand in the shadows watching deluded Judas cinch a noose ‘round his neck after he has delivered the bitter kiss. He mutters, “Serving higher callings only puts you / higher on the hanging tree, to fall / a little farther, stop a little harder, / snap the neck more cleanly, but no less dead.”
In the second, we are pressed into the corner of a hospital room where a family has watched a beloved old man breathe his last. All depart, but one middle-aged son remains. Remembering the life the old man lived and the reach of his influence before the withering began, the son takes the water glass from the bedside table and traces “with moistened finger / above his now-closed eyes the oldest sign.” Not a word is a wasted, nor is sentimentality allowed to tread near these scenes. Yet both deliver profound narratives that leave one gasping.
In the peculiar days when it seems the world has gone down Alice’s rabbit hole, and truth is the parasitic twin of fiction, and words are manipulated like Silly Putty in order to reproduce the daily comics, a poet is called to speak visions and hold a light against the gloom. The psalmist rose to that task in a different time, voicing the vicissitudes of his faith and that of his people. Paul Hooker has heard the call today and, God be praised, he has answered. With “Days and Times,” Hooker reveals wonders great and small and offers a Fresnel lens by which to view them. Book two cannot be published soon enough.
Dana Hughes is a Presbyterian interim minister in Atlanta, a poet and patron of visionaries and other fools.