Sandra Hochman Essay - Critical Essays

Hochman, Sandra (Vol. 3)

Hochman, Sandra 1936–

Ms. Hochman is an American confessional poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Though she was the Yale Younger Poet in only 1963, Sandra Hochman is already presenting her selected poems, Earthworks, taken from four books published during the 'sixties and including a substantial section of previously uncollected poems. Her work is intensely personal, but vivid, introspective without being analytical. Her major theme and preoccupation—learning how to live—keeps her constantly poised at that point where one's experience becomes charged and baffling but one cannot quite understand why. Thus, we get from this book a picture of a personality progressively maturing but perpetually bewildered….

Even at their most ambitious these are very much occasional poems (in the best sense of the word); this is both their charm and their limitation. Sandra Hochman has the ability to make the profound seem—if not exactly ordinary—natural. However, too often this takes place along the wrong axis: the landscapes become moral and what is eliminated is not the solemnity of the profound but its resonance. I think the trouble is that the vision demanded by her project of "learning how to live," of reconciling herself to what is happening to her, is one capable of taking in the soul and the telephone on the table in the same glance; and though at first her poems sound like they embody this vision, eventually they seem to display, rather, a marvelous facility in a style perfectly suited to conveying it if it were only there.

Perhaps this collection is premature: one wants to find in a poet's selected poems more scope and assurance than Miss Hochman has had time to attain. She seems to have a novelist's urge to explore and develop in the course of a work, an urge that her skill has so far prevented her from satisfying.

John Koethe, in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), April, 1972, pp. 52-3.

Sandra Hochman's Earthworks, Poems 1960–1970 must be understood as the poetic record of ten years of a life committed to the turbulence of time, a life in which the self demands continual redefinition and renewal in the conditions of the moment. Earthworks represents Miss Hochman's own selection of some one hundred and fifty poems which originally appeared in her previous books (Manhattan Pastures—the Yale Younger Poets selection for 1963—Voyage Home, The Vaudeville Marriage, and Love Letters from Asia). The poems included here, intelligent, humane, true to the intimate shapes of feeling, reflect a movement from a confused sense of imprisonment to a freedom associated with finding oneself at home at last in the natural world—a world no longer imagined as a claustrophobic kingdom of blind force, but as a region of expansive vistas ruled serenely by the eye….

[In] all of Miss Hochman's poems emotions tend to be regarded as an aspect of place, and new experience therefore demands a change of physical location…. Since possibilities of feeling associated with one place (whether temporal or geographical) cannot be rediscovered in another, there seems to be no way of awakening to a changing sense of familiar surroundings; movement therefore becomes a painful necessity, and the wholeness of experience can be grasped only in retrospect.

And it is because it provides just such a retrospective view that Earthworks achieves a large measure of success. For while the poems in each section here afford their own distinctive pleasures, what is significant about this comprehensive collection taken as a whole is that it reveals a generosity and range of feeling which no single one of Miss Hochman's earlier volumes begins to suggest. Consequently, Earthworks establishes itself as something more than an arbitrary compendium; by placing all of Miss Hochman's work to date in a long perspective, it makes it possible to measure the impressive distance she has traveled in only ten years.

Stephen Donadio, in Commentary (reprinted from Commentary by permission; © 1973 by the American Jewish Committee), February, 1973, pp. 66-7.