Ten More Poems by James Hoff, printed by Ugly Duckling Presse, turned out to be a delightful read that interacted with its form in a way that made me feel as though I was uncovering someone’s manuscript that they left on the train. I suppose that all chapbooks must feel this way: they usually contain the thoughts of a passionate and thoughtful individual and are wrapped/designed/printed in a way that should make them feel like a walk through another person’s head. The ideology behind this chapbook makes this observation especially true. The content reveals a person who is riding on the subway or stopping to talk to people on the street of a big city. It reveals a certain cynicism about large cities and the suburbs that often surround them, and it especially conveys disdain for people who spend their money inappropriately. Why not give your money to a homeless man, but instead spend your money on a red sports car to park in front of your one-story home in the suburbs? He poses the question in one of the first poems: “Why do street lamps not line the sea?” It’s a cynical look at how big cities try to plan out every corner of the city to the last detail when cities will always have parts that are as untouchable as the sea.
Hoff uses form in a way that makes the chapbook a quick read. He even inserts “Intermission” poems that are shorter and sweeter than the rest. For example, “Intermission No. 4” is simply: “Linda shouted Heck / for the hell of it / Texas.” These give the reader an “Aha” moment amidst vaguer and more specific works. The “aha” moment that readers often get from chapbooks is understandable. As a reader of chapbooks, one expects a certain fluidity in the works and a sense of wholeness when one finishes. Ten More Poems achieves this extremely well. When you are done, you feel as though you understand big cities from the eyes of an attentive observer.
As far as the structure of the actual book goes, the brown paper cover heightens the “found on the subway” feel, and the typeface, letter pressed, a lovely typewriter font, makes the works inside feel deeply personal and are reminiscent of writers who move to a big city to write freelance and instead find a cold, unfriendly writing community. It is easy to convince yourself that, because you are typing on a typewriter, the work that you produce has to be good. It’s the organic, writerly feel that young writers crave in their work. It’s the principle that if you don’t feel like you’re creating something and can’t see a tangible product, then you’re not creating anything. The cherry on top of this chapbook are the bright red stamps that appear on the cover, a car surrounded by sparkling light, and the hand drawn on the back cover which appear to be a broken hanger and chicken scratch. I am glad to have read this wonderful, well-put together and well-written book, which appears to embody the essence of the term “chapbook.”