Editor’s Note: On Monday, the Tompkins County Legislature named Ithaca resident John “Jack” Hopper its poet laureate.
Hopper was recommended by the Community Arts Partnership, according to a press release from the county.
Below are 5 poems from Hopper, who has been an Ithaca resident for 10 years, as well as a statement of purpose he sent to The Voice.
The 21st Century Library Campaign – Tompkins County Public Library
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“Poet’s statement of purpose:”
Written by Jack Hopper:
In my ten years as an Ithacan I’ve had the pleasure of knowing or working with three laureates and following what they were able to do in the cause of poetry. Paul Hamill, Gail Holst-Warhaft, and Tish Pearlman have made significant contributions locally in spreading the good word with their own good works. On the national level, we’ve had the example of Billy Collins as a highly visible ambassador in his many public readings and discussions with the public. I could only hope to continue this tradition. How? By public readings, which I enjoy, believing as I do that a poet should be his own best interpreter. I work hard to make my audience feel my words, my message.
I would also want to reach out to students of all ages – grade school through college through seniors – by holding clinics in which we could read and discuss work by many different poets, including works by the participants themselves. I’d want to work with veterans’ groups, interracial audiences, and the bedridden¸ drawing as I would on my own experience caring for my mother as she lived with me in the last five years of her century-long life.
While I’ve never been convinced that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as Shelley would have it, examples are all to frequent in our society of the power of the written word (and drawn image), when novelists are threatened by fatwas and filmmakers and cartoonists pay for their satiric humor with their lives. I am not obsessively political, but as a member of this vibrant community I have supported good causes and their champions. Writers, like everyone these days, must be engaged, critical at every level, fair in judgment. Poetry’s goal is to tell the truth. There I stand. I would welcome the opportunity to have a voice in our local forum.
And now, for Hopper’s poems …
1 – 9 short tales
A dripping faucet ticks
like a metronome in time
with music on the radio,
’till suddenly it’s out of sync.
Cut flowers upright for weeks
one morning wilt, nod off.
Only the Baby’s Breath survives
the fellowship of death.
“He told me that he did it,
told me that he snapped,”
a friend said. “Strangled, he admitted,
the thing he loved now dead.”
The faucet drips no more.
A plumber cannot fix
its shattered, broken music
scattered on the kitchen floor.
She spoke of her fondness for flossing
till all I could see were her teeth.
Even the hyena of lust I knew
was there, had vanished.
“I’ve known you all my life,”
he mused to himself in bed.
“So glad we’ve finally met,”
then turned on the light and read.
They tell us that all animals are sad
after making love.
I’m still waiting for that to happen—
the sadness, that is.
I’m frozen at my relay spot.
Only the clock is racing.
Soon the baton will pass to me,
running for the stands to see.
The illustrated poem hangs
on the wall like an eye chart.
Guests lean in, squint at it,
smile, and turn away.
2 – Have you ever kissed raw passion on the lips?
The poster asked, for General Hospital’s
wet-suited lovers just before they plunge
into each other, playing doctor/nurse.
It could be worse, say, Mr. Bundy
born on Monday, dressed to kill
and cooler than the Bay of Fundy.
Or, so much better, you and me,
wearing out tubes of chap stick
discovering our ecstasy
in the bedroom’s cold. Then, passion spent,
turn cereal-killers at the breakfast board,
searching the TV news to see when (in between
another episode of your E.R., my NYPD Blue)
to work our passions to the right degree of raw,
or load our hearts with what they once called rue.
3 – Pilgrimage
Martinis at the Ritz, where thin girl Audrey
Hepburn trysted Cooper in the afternoon.
Then dinner at some bistro that’s survived
the march of change and small talk,
a patron who remembers us with nods, or not.
At last, round midnight, I’ll walk you
halfway over the Pont Neuf,
down steps where, seen only
by chance lovers on the quai,
some passing tug,
I will consign your ashes
to the Seine’s complicit hug.
4 – The lion of march
When I’m alone
With no one else around,
I admit that I’m an old man,
living in an even older house.
I putter in the basement,
run my hands over the nuts and bolts,
screws and nails I’ve scattered
on the crowded work bench.
They are the alphabet of a language
I never learned
and won’t try now,
though I’ve had them for years,
like good intentions: I’ve vowed
by fall I’d call a plumber
to check the old boiler,
when suddenly it’s winter,
and, as the cold persists,
I pray that the heat will last,
that the pipes will sing
with their counterfeit spring,
and the rooms stay warm—
at least, the one I sit in,
for as long as I sit in it.
5 — The mechanics of sleep
If I turn left
I’m facing her
front or back.
If I turn right
there’s the door we men
have been guarding since the cave.
My back’s to her now,
whom I trust
awake or asleep,
the two of us in our ruts,
worn as wheels.