I’ve often thought it best not to hitch one’s star to the ephemeral, avoiding poems which seem inevitably tied to brands, pop-idols-of-the-moment and other flashpan cultural trends. That said, I cannot decide whether Kristin Hatch’s Through the Hour Glass, her Cutbank chapbook thoroughly immersed in the interminable soap opera Days of Our Lives, is an argument for or against my position. It’s a snappy, slim volume full of idiosyncratic typography and breathless arrivals.
By and large, the poems in Through the Hour Glass are discrete, second-person sketches of the various characters who have kept DOOL churning for the past half-century. It’s not the sort of thing one would expect to endure longer than an instant (barely from one Wednesday to the next), but Hatch’s turns of phrase get under one’s skin. The latter part of “marlena evans” reads,
[…]when the knife nearly grazed
the nape of your neck
i wanted to be that blade
that missed you
i saved you.
you can’t remember the guillotine now,
the spiders in your gold resin.
“Nearly grazed” is the sort of logical inaccuracy we would expect from the character recalling the story herself, and in an instant it reveals the deep empathy the poetic speaker feels for the character. The poem is also a rumination on maternity, with the generational distance between speaker and subject signaled by “can’t remember” and the hardening amber. The power to wound or save will be familiar to many mothers and daughters, shot through as the mother-daughter relationship often is with emotional and biological expectations. When the poems mock, they do so with purpose, as in the prose poem “bo brady”: “somebody’s cousin’s uncle’s basement & beandip with the hydro […] me in my saved-tips-for sundress from express […] you called me ophelia & then felt me up. jukebox! skin! pool table! an ad for the medical tech school! carly, you slut!” Here, it is unclear whether the adolescent drama takes place within- or outside the frame of the television, and that is of course the point. A show like DOOL succeeds only as long as it purports to act like a mirror.
Occasionally, Hatch takes soap opera’s preposterous conventions head-on. “Like sands,” “amnesiac,” and “fake baby” helpfully break up the self-involved patter of the character sketches. But while the language in these poems continues to delight, the overall effect of implied cultural critique is rather expected. Take, for instance, “fake salem,” named for the fictional setting of DOOL: “we have fake milk here & fake ants & fake pajamas & we fall in love like math with whatever’s around […]” It seems reasonable to assume that this is a simultaneous critique of the highly synthetic nature of both the Salemites’ storylines and the viewers’ own bioengineered, virtually-networked lives. The final poem, “so are the days,” is a play on DOOL’s tagline and an accomplished formal riff:
so are the days
& the handsomes & don’t cut yourself.
so are the things we see through windows.
so are the days when you are trying to be famous
(or hot topic or rah-rah
or denny’s afterdark; today is the greatest—).
so are the badlands & when you cry until it feels like cleaning.
Here, the poem functions as lament, but of a very particular variety: nostalgia. The details of the speaker’s life are considered through the complex lens of watching oneself evolve through the reflective surface of a longrunning melodrama. This is not to say that the poem contains no present (in fact, nostalgia requires a present from which to be felt), but that the present is made unstable: it threatens at every moment to collapse into mere plotline.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t put down Through the Hour Glass. I have never watched soap operas except as language practice while on vacation in foreign lands, or perhaps muted with subtitles at the gym. But I was happy enough to google the characters involved and—when the twists, liaisons and casting changes became too tangled to follow—let Hatch’s verbal fireworks burst overhead (We’ll be seeing more of Hatch: her first full-length book, the meatgirl whatever, was a National Poetry Series winner and will be out in November of 2013). While the soap opera is on its way out as a cultural phenomenon in the United States (what can compete with reflective surfaces like reality television or vlogs?) it is alive and well in other parts of the world. I occasionally felt that Through the Hour Glass was a rather earnest attempt by the author to capture this world before it is consigned to oblivion, and here, I came closest to dismissing it as fatally ephemeral. But perhaps not so fast: in the chapbook’s fascination with voyeurism that becomes a sort of narcissism, Hatch seems to have hit upon something sufficiently universal to transcend the ephemeral materials. And besides, in terms of the persistence of those materials, one would be foolish to bet against Days of Our Lives.