Marilyn Hacker 1942-
American poet and editor.
The following entry provides an overview of Hacker's life and works.
Hacker, an award-winning poet whose works have been published in numerous collections and in a wide variety of journals, identifies herself as a Jewish-American lesbian feminist. She is best known for combining traditional forms, such as the sonnet, with thematic content that is highly personal, even outrageous according to some critics. Hacker's poetry is often devoted to the minute details of domesticity, although at the same time, it deals with larger issues such as the transient nature of human relationships and of life itself. Many of her poems, particularly those in her later collections, tend to be dark and somber in tone.
Hacker was born in New York City on November 27, 1942, to Albert Abraham Hacker, a management consultant, and Hilda Rosengarten, a teacher. She attended Bronx High School of Science where she met her friend Samuel Delany, a gay African-American science fiction novelist whom she married in 1961. Hacker studied painting at the Art Students' League and in 1964 earned a B.A. from New York University. From 1969 to 1971, Hacker and Delany co-edited Quark: A Quarterly of Speculative Fiction. The couple separated in 1974 and divorced in 1980; they had one child, a daughter, Iva Hacker-Delany, born in 1974 when Hacker was working in London as an antiquarian book dealer. Shortly thereafter, Hacker publicly identified herself as a lesbian; she has maintained a domestic partnership with Karyn London since 1986.
In 1990, Hacker assumed the editorship of The Kenyon Review but was ousted from that position four years later, just months after completing chemotherapy treatments following breast cancer surgery. In addition to her writing and editing work, Hacker has held numerous teaching positions at a variety of institutions, among them State University of New York at Binghamton, Brandeis, and Princeton. She recently accepted the directorship of the M.A. program in English literature and creative writing at the City College of New York. Hacker divides her time between her homes in Paris and Manhattan.
Hacker's poems have appeared in a wide variety of periodicals including Nation, Paris Review, and Ms. She published her first major collection of poetry in 1974. Presentation Piece was a Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets and won the National Book Award. This was followed by Separations (1976), and Taking Notice (1980). Some critics consider these first three collections a trilogy because of their similar subject matter and tone. In 1985, Hacker published Assumptions, a volume dealing with relationships between mothers and daughters; it is a highly personal work revealing intimate details of Hacker's own role as both daughter and mother.
Hacker's 1986 book Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons has garnered considerable attention and debate over its appropriate generic classification. The work is a collection of narrative poems—primarily sonnets but also villanelles and a sestina—strung together to tell the story of the successive stages of a lesbian love affair from the first moment of attraction to the painful break-up at the end. Some critics refer to it as a sonnet sequence while others insist it is actually a novel in verse. In 1994, Hacker published Selected Poems: 1965-1990 as well as the highly-acclaimed Winter Numbers, dealing with the loss of friends to either AIDS or breast cancer, both of which she considers modern epidemics. She continued that theme in Squares and Courtyards (2000).
In addition to her writing, Hacker has served as editor of a number of literary publications, among them Thirteenth Moon, The Little Magazine, Quark, and The Kenyon Review.
Hacker has received numerous awards, among them the National Book Award (1975), National Endowment for the Arts grants (1974, 1985, 1995), a Guggenheim Foundation award (1980-81), the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry (1991, 1995), and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets (1995). She is widely acclaimed for her technical mastery of difficult forms and occasionally criticized for writing within those traditional formal conventions, which many feminists associate with patriarchal politics. Lynn Keller (1994) explains that “Hacker does not equate prescribed forms with hegemonic ideology,” but rather “is confident that women can express themselves through the resources of received tradition—which she refuses to see as predominantly masculine.” Most critics note the way Hacker combines highly-structured formal elements and gritty subject matter. Ben Howard (1975), for example, in his review of Presentation Piece, reports that Hacker “fuses conventional stanzaic form with squalid urban imagery and with a diction that is both fastidious and rich with slang.” Similarly, Suzanne Juhasz (1995) admires Hacker's “linguistic brilliance, largely derived from the striking conjunction of conventional prosody with decidedly unconventional, decidedly vernacular idiom.”
Peter Stitt (1986) finds many of the poems of Assumptions to be “intentionally outrageous confessions,” and maintains that Hacker's best work is achieved when she abandons such extreme introspection in favor of poetry about other people, such as Harriet Tubman. Marilyn French (1986) acknowledges Hacker's extensive treatment of personal experiences, but complains that the poet offers a limited range of emotional responses to those experiences. Hacker “insists she feels only loss and sorrow,” according to French, rather than the justifiable anger some of the narrative situations in Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons would seem to provoke. Nonetheless, it is Hacker's personal life, most specifically her identity as a lesbian, that informs her poetry, according to Beatrix Gates (1991), who believes her lesbian identity is “the emotional magnet at the center of Hacker's books.”
Critics have often noted the increasingly somber tone of Hacker's work, particularly the poems contained in Winter Numbers, although Robert Holland (1977) commented on this aspect of Hacker's work even in her early material. In a review of Separations, Holland complains of the poet's preoccupation with loss: “While I admire the sureness of technique, I keep asking myself why it must be all that damp and dreary, unrelieved by any of the ordinary compensations of life.” Her later work, though, is thoroughly permeated with images of death, usually from what Hacker considers the twin epidemics of the late twentieth-century: AIDS and breast cancer. Her own experiences with the latter, including surgery and chemotherapy, inform the last section of Winter Numbers. Titled “Cancer Winter,” the section contains three poems Matthew Rothschild (1995) calls “among the most draining I've ever read.” Suzanne Juhasz (1995) agrees that “death is ever-present” in the book but suggests that it is accompanied by “wisdom and contemplative power” and by “intelligence and artistry.” Hacker's next collection, Squares and Courtyards continues in the same vein, according to Beatrix Gates (2000), who reports that in the collection “death is a regular refrain, addressed from every side.”
Presentation Piece 1974
Taking Notice 1980
Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons 1986
Going Back to the River 1990
Selected Poems: 1965-1990 1994
Winter Numbers: Poems 1994
Squares and Courtyards: Poems 2000
(The entire section is 29 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: Howard, Ben. “Naturalist, Feminist, Professor.” Poetry 126, no. 1 (April 1975): 46-7.
[In the following excerpt, Howard reviews Presentation Piece, maintaining that the volume should be read as a whole in order to appreciate the connections Hacker makes between individual poems through the use of repeated images.]
Marilyn Hacker shares with Eiseley a certain tough-mindedness, but her concerns are narrower, her tone much harsher. She is a poet of emerging womanhood and the decaying American city. Her lines have a nervous intensity and a taut, glutted texture expressive of their subject:
Two bulldykes teased an acrid teenage whore pinioned with dexies to the lobby door and wondered if distinction could be made among us, who was trick and who was trade.
In this and other poems Miss Hacker fuses conventional stanzaic form with squalid urban imagery and with a diction that is both fastidious and rich with slang. The effect is often witty, sometimes caustic:
I, for one, have had a bellyful
of giving reassurances and obvious advice with scrambled eggs and cereal; then bad debts, broken dates, and lecherous
onanistic dreams of estival nights when some high-strung, well-hung, penurious boy, not knowing what he'd get, could be more...
(The entire section is 603 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: Holland, Robert. “Six or Seven Fools.” Poetry 129, no. 5 (February 1977): 285-95.
[In the following excerpt, Holland reviews Separations, praising the poet's technique but criticizing the overall dreariness and pessimism of her verses.]
Marilyn Hacker's clowning does not seem to have been spoiled by success. Her first book, Presentation Piece (1974), not only won the Lamont Poetry Prize, but went on to take the National Book Award as well. Yet Hacker has obviously not settled back content with that. Although there are still a few poems which betray her apprenticeship, sounding like exercises or baring influences, Hacker extends her technical mastery and increases her self-confidence measurably in Separations. Spinning out sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, canzones, couplets, fixed and free forms, lyrics and narratives in generous portions, she displays an impressive virtuosity and vitality of language.
All of this technical skill is in the service of a dark, somewhat sordid urban vision which is sometimes lightened, but more often further darkened, by love. Raking her forms across the separations of death, distance, and unreturned love, Hacker attempts, as she says, to “maul the pain / to shape”:
… Hating words, I fumble words into a bridge, a path, a wall.
(The entire section is 603 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
SOURCE: Oles, Carole S. Review of Assumptions. The Nation, New York 240 (27 April 1985): 506-09.
[In the following review, Oles discusses Hacker's treatment of mother/daughter relationships in her poetry collection Assumptions.]
Marilyn Hacker's intelligence, wit, passion and craft have delighted her readers ever since Presentation Piece announced her arrival a decade ago. Assumptions, her fourth book, moves us with new strength and nerve. Hacker continues to explore the forms, powers and attributes a woman can assume, searching her past as the poems move from personal to mythic expressions of a woman's progress toward herself.
The personal tone of her work is clearest in the section of the book called “Inheritances,” where the pain of the past is revisited through the poet's relationship with her mother, for example, in this sonnet:
We shopped for dresses which were always wrong: sweatshop approximations of the leanlined girls' wear I studied in Seventeen. The armholes pinched, the belt didn't belong, the skirt drooped forward (I'd be told at school). Our odd-lot bargains deformed the image, but she and I loved Saturday rummage. One day she listed outside Loehmann's. Drool wet chin. Stumbling, she screamed at me. Dropping our parcels on the pavement, she fell in what looked like a fit. I guessed: insulin. The cop said,...
(The entire section is 1196 words.)
SOURCE: Stitt, Peter. “The Typical Poem.” Kenyon Review 8, no. 4 (fall 1986): 128-33.
[In the following excerpt, Stitt reviews Assumptions, claiming that the “intentionally outrageous confessions” of the events of Hacker's own life are less effective than the poems about other people, which Stitt believes are among her best.]
Half the poems of Marilyn Hacker present a special problem with respect to content—they are the intentionally outrageous confessions of a speaker who had an affair with a married man at the tender age of seventeen, who had an illegitimate baby with a man who, we are pointedly told, at the time of writing is himself sleeping with another man, and who describes herself in adulthood as “another Jewish lesbian in France.” The tenor of such poems may be judged by these lines from the poem “Fifteen to Eighteen”: “… as soon as I had tucked / into myself tucked in, to masturbate / and make happen what hadn't when I fucked …” At this point in the poem the speaker's mother suffers insulin shock, multiplying the mayhem. Were this all her poems contained, Marilyn Hacker's work could be dismissed as just another shrill and misguided effort at scandalous self-display. But there is more.
In her best poems, Hacker gets outside herself and writes about others—Harriet Tubman, for example, whose letter ordering a set of clothes from Amelia Bloomer...
(The entire section is 550 words.)
SOURCE: French, Marilyn. Review of Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons. The Nation, New York 243 (1 November 1986): 442-46.
[In the following review, French discusses Hacker's use of the sonnet form and sonnet sequences.]
The recounting of a love affair through sonnets has a tradition that dates back to Petrarch. Petrarch's Canzoniere centered on his love for a woman he called Laura, who seems more occasion than creature, an idea of woman figuring in poems offering an idea of love as exalted, unable to be consummated or even requited, and ending tragically. What is really celebrated in Petrarch's love poems is the poet's skill, his art and his own emotions—passion sustained interminably and hopelessly.
Petrarch's sonnets inspired a host of imitators in England during the Renaissance. Starting with Sir Thomas Wyatt, many poets attempted the sonnet, and some tried their hands at sonnet sequences. Samuel Daniel and Sir Walter Raleigh both wrote sonnet sequences as compliments to their patrons—Daniel to the Countess of Pembroke and Raleigh to Queen Elizabeth. But love poetry requires the impetus of erotic passion, even if its object is as slightly known and sketchily depicted as Petrarch's Laura or Dante's Beatrice; lacking that, Daniel's and Raleigh's sequences seem now to lack everything, and are read today less for pleasure than for knowledge. Oddly, this is...
(The entire section is 2466 words.)
SOURCE: West, Kathleene. Review of Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons. Prairie Schooner 61, no. 4 (winter 1987): 121-23.
[In the following review, West praises Hacker's treatment of personal heroics, calling Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons “wise, funny, brave, and beautifully written.”]
What does it take to be a hero in the 1980s? Contemporary American culture's obsession with temperamental rock stars and prima donna quarterbacks blurs the distinction between heroism and temporary fame, and President Reagan's proclamation of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North as a national hero is as perplexing as the Newsweek inclusion of a KKK grandmother in their “A Day in the Life of America.” It is an appealing proposition that, in order to generate heroes of a more elevated type, there should be a large-scale reexamination of individual, personal heroics, on the order of Walt Whitman's dictum, “To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too.” In Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons, Marilyn Hacker considers the question of personal heroics directly:
Would we be heroes if things came to it? We only get to be tough guys in small ways, in Central Park, on highways or in hallways. A big word, but we have a claim to it or, sometimes, need to give that name to it, especially the harder times, when you're a tad turned round toward...
(The entire section is 1236 words.)
SOURCE: Gates, Beatrix. Review of Going Back to the River. The Nation, New York 252, no. 2 (21 January 1991): 64-7.
[In the following review, Gates discusses Hacker's lesbian identity as it informs her poetry.]
Marilyn Hacker has given us six books of poetry as well as Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons, a novel in verse that was put out by a new publisher who was better able to appreciate the hot chronicle of a year in lesbian romance. Hacker has always risked—through her fearless choice of subject and form. I remember hearing her read “Part of a True Story,” a poem dedicated to Margaret Delany that evokes a letter dictated by Harriet Tubman to Amelia Bloomer requesting a new bloomer suit. Tubman, who was known as “the General” even by her commanding officer after she led a successful raid up the Combahee River with a detachment of soldiers from Colonel Montgomery's command, delighted in this timely invention, long skirts having proved useless in her campaign. Hacker continues to witness with brave imagination in her latest book, and that range is why I have called the work wide and tender.
The emotional magnet at the center of Hacker's books is her lesbian identity, which she knits ferociously into form. She portrays her life as lived: in her two cities, Paris and New York; in the world of lesbian and lover; as mother to her daughter's black and...
(The entire section is 892 words.)
SOURCE: West, Kathleene. Review of Going Back to the River. Prairie Schooner 66, no. 3 (fall 1992): 129-31.
[In the following review, West comments on Hacker's use of a wide variety of forms, rhyme schemes, and metrical patterns.]
Marilyn Hacker's previous book, Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons is a hard act to follow. A novel in verse, mostly sonnets, it had readers and reviewers gasping out their astonishment that poetry could be lively, entertaining, and, above all, not boring. Love, Death was a stunning book, indeed, but those who have been reading Hacker's work since Presentation Piece have known all along the excitement and delight she has in store for them with each book.
Going Back to the River, cannily titled, doesn't attempt to be a follow-up to anything. It does fulfill the expectations of the reader who anticipates some lively turns of phrase in a set form or two. The paired sestinas entitled “Country and Western” and “Country and Western II” begin respectively: “She will never know I cried for her / in a motel outside Memphis” and “It looks like we are the Last Unmarried / Women in Tucson. We talk about food, / drinking and mountains. They talk about babies.” Hacker gives a nod to the traditions of poetic form, country song, and a woman's place and turns them around to something rousing, living, and real. If it's...
(The entire section is 870 words.)
SOURCE: Keller, Lynn. “Measured Feet ‘in Gender-Bender Shoes’: The Politics of Poetic Form in Marilyn Hacker's Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons.” In Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory, edited by Lynn Keller and Cristanne Miller, pp. 260-86. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Keller examines Hacker's use of formalist verse in a way that resists the stereotypical patriarchal gender politics generally associated with formalism.]
Poetry in set verse forms has recently enjoyed a revival.1 Given the highly politicized history of poetic form in this century—especially the battles in the 1960s over the ideological implications of free verse and “open” forms—it is hardly surprising that the advent of the “new formalism” has renewed disputes about the politics of poetic form. To counter the essentialist understandings of poetic form on which such disputes are often based, this essay will examine the “performative” formalism of lesbian feminist Marilyn Hacker. I adopt the term performative from Judith Butler, who uses it to describe acts and gestures that might purport to express the essence of gender identity, but that she sees as signifying on the surface of the body an illusory internal core. These acts of gender reveal not its substance but its fabrication: “That the gendered body is performative suggests...
(The entire section is 11853 words.)
SOURCE: Rothschild, Matthew. Review of Winter Numbers. Progressive 59, no. 1 (January 1995): 43-4.
[In the following review of Winter Numbers, Rothschild praises the humor and tenderness of Hacker's verse.]
This is the seventh volume of poems by Marilyn Hacker, who for the last few years was the editor—and a brilliant one at that—of The Kenyon Review. (It was she who brought Campo to my attention). But last summer she was cashiered, she told The Advocate, suspecting that her lesbian orientation and radical politics were too much for that tightly buttoned magazine—another brave moment in publishing,
Death stalks this book. The opening long poem, “Against Elegies,” sets the tone from the very first lines:
James has cancer. Catherine has cancer. Melvin has AIDS. Whom will I call, and get no answer?
Halfway through the poem, Hacker mentions “the day I meet / the lump in my breast,” and her cancer will return throughout the book. Intensely personal, this opening poem and others in the collection also reflect on the crimes of this century,
in which we made death humanly obscene Soweto El Salvador Kurdistan Armenia Shatila Baghdad Hanoi Auschwitz. Each one, unique as our lives are, taints what's left with complicity, makes everyone living a survivor who will, or won't bear witness for the dead....
(The entire section is 478 words.)
SOURCE: Juhasz, Suzanne. “In the Fullness of the Poet's Time.” Lesbian Review of Books 2, no. 1 (31 October 1995): 16.
[In the following excerpt, Juhasz traces the development of Hacker's poetry over the 25 years covered in Selected Poems: 1965-1990.]
Marilyn Hacker is one of our premier lesbian poets. That fact is clearly brought home with the publication of her Selected Poems: 1965-1990. I have always admired her for her linguistic brilliance, largely derived from the striking conjunction of conventional prosody with decidedly unconventional, decidedly vernacular idiom. Marilyn Hacker's poetry rhymes. It is not a free, untrammeled expression of feelings; rather, it is as ordered—and playful—as only structured verse can be. The choice to contain the contemporary and colloquial within verse forms as old-fashioned, nay unfashionable, as the sonnet, sestina, villanelle, and pantoum results in a lively interplay between the rigorous and the rebellious, the controlled and the haphazard. Hacker can be bawdy and elegant, crude and sophisticated, all at the very same time. She writes of the perils of the ordinary, the hazards of desire, the revelations of beauty wherever it is found. The result has been strong, intelligent poetry about living and loving in the mid-twentieth century. In making forms for the disarray of daily striving, Hacker has documented the unremitting synergy of personal and...
(The entire section is 1610 words.)
SOURCE: Kumin, Maxine. “The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize—1995.” The Nation, New York 261, no. 21 (18 December 1995): 800-01.
[In the following essay, Kumin discusses the poetry of Hacker's award-winning volume, Winter Numbers.]
The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize of ＄10,000, awarded annually for the most outstanding book of poems published in the United States by an American, is co-administered by The Academy of American Poets and The Nation. Previous winners of the prize have been W. S. Merwin (1994), Thom Gunn (1993), Adrienne Rich (1992), John Haines (1991), Michael Ryan (1990), Thomas McGrath (1989), Josephine Jacobsen (1988), Donald Hall (1987), Howard Moss (1986), John Ashbery (1985), Josephine Miles (1984), George Starbuck (1983), John Logan (1982), Sterling A. Brown (1981), Stanley Kunitz (1980), Hayden Carruth (1979), Allen Tate (1978), Philip Levine (1977), Denise Levertov (1976) and Cid Corman (1975).
This year the prize has been awarded to Marilyn Hacker for her book Winter Numbers (Norton). The judges were Cornelius Eady, Alice Fulton and Maxine Kumin, who contributed the accompanying essay.
To page attentively and sympathetically through 169 poetry books between mid-June and Labor Day is perhaps not a feat comparable to swimming the English Channel or scaling Mount McKinley. Still, it is an arduous undertaking, particularly since there...
(The entire section is 852 words.)
SOURCE: Hudak, Kristen A. Review of Winter Numbers. Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women 11, no. 1 (January 1996): 35-6.
[In the following review, Hudak praises Hacker's poetic technique as well as her skill in dealing with themes of life, love, and death.]
Marilyn Hacker's diagnosis of breast cancer was a life-altering discovery that undoubtedly prompted the poet to ponder what it means to be alive. Her latest volume of poetry, Winter Numbers, chronicles her strugglings with life's big questions—ancestry, the everyday, the end of a romance, and death. How these four themes relate to each other is what interests (and what makes) Hacker.
The book begins its reflection leitmotif in “Against Elegies.” Here, Hacker's speaker tells the reader that what makes an elegy so fruitless is that “no one was promised a shapely life/ending in a tutelary vision.” Hacker is against elegies indeed—including one for herself. Her poems are straightforward, honest portraits of a woman facing the second half of her life with no regrets and little fear.
In the “Elysian Fields’ section, Hacker considers past lovers. The first poem, “Nearly a Valediction,” with its powerful first line—“You happened to me”—foreshadows Hacker's conclusions in the final section. Her lovers “happened” to her just as her cancer, her Jewish heritage, and her waking...
(The entire section is 665 words.)
SOURCE: Finch, Annie. “Marilyn Hacker: An Interview on Form.” American Poetry Review 25, no. 3 (May-June 1996): 23-7.
[In the following interview, Hacker discusses issues of poetic form in her own work and in the verse of other poets of the past and present.]
I interviewed Marilyn Hacker at the 1994 AWP conference in Tempe, Arizona, a few hours after we had joined Carolyn Kizer, Marilyn Nelson (Waniek), and Kathleene West for a panel on the subject of “Formalism in Contemporary Women's Poetry,” moderated by Julie Fay. The panel marked the publication of the anthology A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women by Story Line Press. The panel and the anthology are referred to during the interview.
[Finch]: Judith Barrington has written that traditional poetic forms have a different meaning for poets who are isolated or disenfranchised than for other poets. Do you have any thoughts on that comment?
[Hacker]: I can't speak as someone who is, in this culture, truly isolated or disenfranchised. On the one hand, I'm a woman, a feminist, a lesbian, a socialist; on the other, I'm European-American, educated, and have never been isolated from traditional literary forms, or felt disenfranchised from or by them. Judith's statement might apply in a different way to...
(The entire section is 6773 words.)
SOURCE: Schweizer, Harold. Review of Winter Numbers. English Language Notes 35, no. 1 (September 1997): 62-6.
[In the following review, Schweizer examines Hacker's treatment of death and loss, as well as her attention to the particulars of domestic life.]
Marilyn Hacker confesses in an early poem, “I always / gossip in poems, mostly about myself, / hinting at inadmissible longings” (Selected Poems: 1965-1990, Norton, 1994, 16). Perhaps because they are “gossip,” Marilyn Hacker's poems are meant to be read in confidence. They are written less to be read than to be overheard, more received than read; indeed, reading any of her seven books of poems since her 1974 Presentation Piece, we become witnesses of a mostly transcontinental epistolary exchange of which we never hear the other side. The other side is Hacker's lover and partner, K. J., her daughter Iva and others mentioned in frequent epigraphs and dedications.
I think of other years here: with Marie, alone, with Iva, then with you, alone, K. J.'s and my first year, alone again. I think of whom I love, and whom she left.
Although mostly homeless, restless, or forsaken, Hacker's voice conveys the sense of a tough, laconic, and subtly ironic phenomenology of feelings. These feelings are for a good part of her work painfully suspended along an axis between Paris and...
(The entire section is 1400 words.)
SOURCE: Gates, Beatrix. “Death Be Not Proud.” Lambda Book Report 8, no. 9 (April 2000): 17-18.
[In the following review, Gates discusses the recurring references to death in Hacker's Squares and Courtyards.]
Marilyn Hacker's ninth book of poems, Squares and Courtyards, as the title suggests, opens onto experiences of public gathering and private ritual. Death is chief among them—and the collective lives of the passing arrange themselves kaleidoscopically throughout the book. Death is a regular refrain, addressed from every side. There are no hidden places, only constant exposure, and in the title poem of the first section, “Scars on Paper,” the poet addresses her own cancer: “The pain and fear some courage extinguished / at disaster's denouement come back / daily, banal; is that brownish-black / mole the next chapter?” Death remains an open question. “Our saved-for-now lives are life sentences,” is the stinging line from “Invocation.”
“The Boy” who begins the book represents part of the poet's consciousness, a relation. He is seeker, a young Jew, boy not yet made man, related and different, his short history looming. Uncertain of his place, his words, “He writes down something that he crosses out.” The poet becomes the vessel for naming and understanding relations to the world. Squares and Courtyards introduces language as a force that does...
(The entire section is 731 words.)
SOURCE: Cameron, Esther. Review of Squares and Courtyards. Prairie Schooner 75, no. 3 (fall 2001): 186-89.
[In the following review, Cameron discusses Hacker's Squares and Courtyards, a collection informed by the poet's battle with breast cancer.]
Marilyn Hacker's ninth collection is written under the aspect of transiency. Reflected in the poems are the realities of a breast cancer diagnosis, mastectomy, chemotherapy, a body no longer whole, the fear of recurrence, the waking up to the “scandal” of death; also the illnesses and deaths of relatives, friends, acquaintances, strangers: other sufferers from cancer in the poet's circle, the victims of aids and drugs cared for by her lover, the poet's daughter's best friend in a car crash, the poet's grandmother in a pedestrian accident long ago, the victims of the Holocaust and World War II, a vital elderly friend, a revered older poet (Muriel Rukeyser), a homeless man whose funeral is described. Geographical transiency also pervades the book: the poet lives half in New York, half in Paris, and at one point settled in Ohio, only to be abruptly uprooted after starting a garden. The poem that relates this event, “Tentative Gardening,” also laments the brevity of the connection with Nadine who had supervised the planting: “and I wonder where and from whom I'll learn to / put in a garden.” Friends fade out in the transcontinental...
(The entire section is 2028 words.)
Campo, Rafael. “About Marilyn Hacker.” Ploughshares 22 (spring 1996): 195-99.
Overview of the poet's life and career as writer, editor, and teacher.
Gardinier, Suzanne. “Marilyn Hacker (1942- ).” In Contemporary Lesbian Writers of the United States, edited by Sandra Pollack and Denise D. Knight, pp. 258-68. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1993.
Overview of Hacker's life, themes, and critical reception.
Weir, John. “Marilyn Hacker.” Advocate 664 (20 September 1994): 51-4.
Conversation with Hacker about her life and work.
Barrington, Judith. Review of Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons. 13th Moon 9, nos. 1-2 (1991): 136-38.
Gives a favorable review of Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons from a feminist perspective.
Davis, Ellen. Review of Winter Numbers and Selected Poems: 1965-1990. Prairie Schooner 71, no. 3 (fall 1997): 184-86.
Praises Hacker's mastery of difficult forms as well as her unflinching treatment of painful subject matter.
Disch, Thomas M. “Poetry Chronicle.” Hudson Review 48, no. 2 (summer 1995): 339-49.
Contends that Hacker uses the...
(The entire section is 884 words.)