Squares and Courtyards

Squares and Courtyards
by Marilyn Hacker

Review by Alyce Wilson

Marilyn Hacker sums up her own work, Squares and Courtyards, when she writes, in "Paragraphs from a Daybook:"

       Was a woman. Was quixotically prolific.
       Was a Jew. Died too young.
       Owned up to violence to be pacific.

That portion of the poem was dedicated to Muriel Rukeyser, but it could just as easily be a Gene Shallit-style look at Squares and Courtyards.

In her newest collection of poems, Hacker tackles large subjects: breast cancer, AIDS, the Jewish Holocaust, discrimination against Jews and gays. Unfortunately, she relies on these huge subjects to carry their own emotional weight. She rarely uses form or word choice to evoke the feelings.

The strongest piece in the collection is "The Boy," which explores the hazy line of gender as the speaker imagines herself as a boy. "I'll never be a man, but there's a boy/crossing out words," Hacker writes. But even here she falls into generalities: "The absence and the privilege of gender / confound in him, soprano, clumsy, frail."

If "The Boy" succeeds where other poems in the book are clumsy and frail, it's because Hacker finds the blend of voice and form that makes her subject matter come alive. In other poems, Hacker forces her words into traditional forms. It's as if she tried to make sense of the chaotic grief of breast cancer by giving herself an ordered way to talk about it.

While that may have been a useful personal exercise, these paragraphs from a daybook should have remained private.

Publisher: W.W. Norton and Co. Inc., 2000
ISBN: 0393048306

Violet Back to Reviews Index