ITHACA, NY – Earlier this month, Tompkins County declared Jack Hopper its official poet laureate for a second year running. Hopper shared some of his thoughts on his first year in the role, a few upcoming projects and some recent works with The Voice.
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Last year, when Hopper was first granted the title, he says he took it as a great honor. “Then it took hold,” he said, as he realized the responsibility and legacy that came with the position.
Fortunately, Hopper says he found the local community to be incredibly receptive, not just in Ithaca but throughout the county.
Some of the highlights of his first year came from doing readings at the Lifelong senior center, where he found a very receptive, very sharp and engaged audience.
Hopper tells of one instance where he brought Dan Lisbe, also known as Rising Sun of Ithaca-favorite band The Gunpoets to a reading at Lifelong to talk about the poetry of rap. Despite their initial hesitance given the popular understanding of rap music, the audience at the reading were standing and applauding.
Experiences like that are what keep poetry alive, says Hopper. He told us that after some readings, people will come up and say things about how the poems connected with them or made them felt that continue to surprise him.
Hopper says he’s already planned some activities for 2016, including programs at Lifelong, a place he finds “seething with poetic interest” that he looks forward to returning to. He plans a reading there for Mother’s Day on May 3, as well as three sessions throughout April that will examine how poetry reflects other art forms.
Hopper also aims to do readings at libraries all throughout the county, including one planned for the Trumansburg Library soon. He is also working to help organize a reading at The History Center focusing on poems relating to historical events.
Hopper isn’t sure if he’ll continue past his second year in the office. He says that while being poet laureate “it’s not an imposition, I don’t have to go to bridge openings or anything,” it still was a substantial commitment in time, which he needs as a co-founder and editor of Cayuga Lake Books.
Some of Hopper’s newest works are posted below. You can also read his latest published piece, “The First 100 Years,” which was published in The Healing Muse, a journal of literary and visual art produced annually by Upstate Medical University.
A selection of Hopper’s recent work
Our young cat darts from sill
to window sill on the screened-in porch,
stalking autumn leaves torn
flying like shipwrecked prey.
He spies a squirrel or bird;
his body tightens in a way
I’ve sensed in other men
paralyzed on subways, sizing women
like hunter/gatherers reenacting
what their forebears
waiting at the next station
stop will do.
STORM OF SNOW
First warning came by radio
As we began to watch a classic rerun:
Sudden cold, in single digits.
Tomorrow morning only slightly better.
Any moon forbidden, to prevent
The enemy from seeing where we were.
The 18-wheelers churning up the highway,
Even the whistle of the freight train dieseling
Along the lake to the salt plant went silent.
About 0300 we first heard then saw the coming push:
Snow, a flurry at first to divert us,
Then the real thing, dense and white
Driving against the sky,
The buildings, the streets below,
Electricity flickering its dark side,
No revelers to pass and leave their empty beer cans—
Our peaceful morning plans
Gone all awry.
RAFTING THE MEDUSA
My mother put me on a makeshift raft,
propelled us down a swollen creek,
our goal a distant highway bridge,
without considering how currents
often play one way. Along we floated
till the shadow of that overpass
darkened, and our fight to return began
as Mother plied the pole
now upstream, against the flow.
The wooden raft’s long dead,
and so is she, with mates of mine gone too.
I’m not alone, poling against the currents
on my own craft. I have drifted
down the river Alph,
conversed with Mr. Kurtz
about the horrors of one hundred years,
and am still unsure if I will ever
make it back against the flow,
the depth that’s deepened,
the others clinging to our bark,
or recognize my place of first departure,
and who may be onshore,
waving us home.
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