James Hoch,
(Zero Degree Press, 1996)

James Hoch is a student of light, the way it comes across the Susquehanna River, flitting across the water, the warm blaze of late afternoon sun on city bricks, the stunning brightness of winter snow forcing a clarity of vision.

In his writing, light is central. It is illuminating. It offers hope in a dark world.

Hoch's first book of poetry, Holler, is a cry for revelation, exploring memory and possibility to expose truths. He does this with the simplest images: making bread, slicing onions, traveling by train.

"Holler is a lot of things," says Hoch. "It's onion-like in its references and the reader is as good as anyone to dissect what it means."

Hoch says the bulk of the poems in his book are rooted in his experiences in Lancaster, Pa., where he's lived on and off for the past decade. They speak of snowstorms where "We lumber and there / it is: the snow, / the lift / and falling / of our boots / The wind tears itself / on this light."

They speak of the messiness of life, where a woman pinches shut a hole in her neck, carrying "the odor of her throat on her fingertips." And they speak of love: "I thought I could fall into your arms / and not crush you, forgetting gravity- / the consequence of bodies ... Your fingers / training my tongue the way a child is taught / eating a mango the first time. I peel back / the skin, open my mouth,/expecting yours."

Hoch, who earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy, has worked as a cook, mover, social worker, foster parent, tutor, dishwasher and educator. Those experiences, combined with his political activism, give his work the depth of a truly felt life.

His work with children and adults at the Janus School lead to the poem "Beautiful Mistake." "It's a phrase we use when a student's error points to greater issues," he explains. "I like that title because my personal life is about error analysis."

Hoch says memory is a key theme in the book.

"Writing is very much recursive and reflection on social experience," he says. "We learn a lot from revisiting old experiences. We can look back and see it differently than when we're participating in the experience."

He also hopes that readers will look beyond the sometimes ugliness and brutality of some of his images and see the revelations sparking underneath them. "I hope that this book conveys how much, that despite the coldness of poems, somewhere there's a lot of passion in trying to know things," he says. "Either yourself, another person, or an idea. And not simply a passion but a real love for that process."

[ by Daina Savage ]