by Tara Atkinson, APRIL Managing Director
I thought about the syntax of the phrase If I Should Say I Have Hope for so long, before and after reading the book. There’s plenty of word play in the collection, but the title captured me most.
It’s not the question “Should I have hope” or “Do I have hope” or “Is there hope”, but “If I should say,” maybe not even a question, but the dependent clause of an if/then statement, the first half of a syllogism — “If I should say I have hope, then what?” Or it’s a to-do list.
I have lists of shoulds like this: I wonder if I should take time to travel, if I should quit my job, if I should reheat this burrito in the oven or the microwave. A “because” (a then) is implied in every should, but why is usually self-evident. But it is not evident in Lynn Melnick’s poems why the speaker should say they have hope. The book is not a journey from hopelessness to hope; the final sentence (another “if/then” statement) is not exactly redeeming, but ambiguous: “If you had told me… // that the light hitting the sickly coral of the beach hotels / could travel further inland / and all the way east to find me, // …I might have hastened from my ambush / angling upward to the moon, / black and gravitational” (“Wallflower”). The light has reached her, but if she’d known it was coming she would have become a dark spot on the moon; dawn, but complicated, because it happens to you, in spite of you, from the natural and indifferent rotation of the earth: should I say that’s hope?
But if I wanted to make a statement about hope, what could I or anyone say without jumping to abstractions about human nature, Life, Love, etc., statements general and somewhat false-ringing? If I wanted, instead of repeating the traditional litanies I accept when I need them, to offer an honest statement about hope based in the evidence of my lived experience? Then I guess I’d acknowledge that hope is a thing we choose to say and break my life into lines detailed, specific, intimate, realistically ambiguous. I guess I’d write Lynn Melnick’s book If I Should Say I Have Hope.
I thought this thesis of hope-as-a-thing-we-say was depressing at first, but then I remembered it’s Poetry Month, and I acknowledge this holiday month and take particular pleasure in reading poetry at this time because I think words are powerful. (And now have I said that if you like to read poetry you have hope?— )
“Yes I knew better then; // yes I didn’t” (“Lagoon”) If I Should Say I Have Hope answers the question of its title in these kinds of contradictions. We’re not such good assessors of our current state anyway — “You wouldn’t know happy if it kissed you on the mouth” (“Of Being Lost Forever”); “I must have walked because I am still walking” (“These Pretty Years”). It’s this uncertainty and specificity I appreciate the most about these poems. If I Should Say I Have Hope is an action shot, not a still life, full of the drama of motion, appropriate to the season.
Get If I Should Say I Have Hope from YesYes Books here.