Le Hinton‘s poem, “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat),” originally appeared in our Winter 2013 Doubt issue, but now has had the distinction of being picked up for the 2014 edition of Best American Poetry. We immediately contacted Le, eager to share more about the story of his poem and the rest of his work with our community in the wake of this momentous achievement. Make sure to give his poem a listen and a read to get the most out of his comments (and because it’s great poetry!). Here’s Le in his own words:
Let’s make this clear. Chris Toll was one of the most creative and gifted poets I’ve ever met. When I found out that he passed away, I cried. If life is meant to be an exquisite sculpture that ages and acquires a lovely patina which enhances its beauty, Chris’s death was like a micro-fracture at its base, the realization that nothing is ever perfect. Some things in life are fundamentally unfair, absolutely wrong. Chris’s death in 2012 is one of those things. As I sat in the audience at Chris’s memorial service, I decided I’d do something I rarely do: write a poem as elegy. There were three keys to my creating “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat).”
In an interview, one of my favorite poets, Dean Young, was quoted as saying: “A straight line, a linear progression, is a fiction and not even a very convincing one. There is no such thing as discontinuity because there is nothing that doesn’t belong, that doesn’t vibrate in this web of connection. Now is always unprecedented and sudden.” This thought is almost always in my fingertips as I begin to write a poem, and it was in this case. There isn’t a linear narrative that runs through the poem.
The second idea that I considered important was that I didn’t want to write an ordinary elegy using a traditional form. Chris was so very unique, so I decided to write about him by using an element of his writing. In some of his poems Chris illuminates words, meanings and moods by taking them apart. In my favorite poem of his, “The Abyss Has No Biographer,” he writes:
How long can I stay
at the inn in innocent?
Love is so hard
and it’s all we came to do.
I wanted to use that technique in my poem for him.
The third aspect of this poem is uncertainty. When someone passes away, especially suddenly, what we feel most acutely is uncertainty, not just about life, but about everything. We question each choice we’ve made and will make, at least for a time. In the poem, I wanted some of the disregarded choices to remain visible. In the poem there are strikeouts that reinforce the uncertainty that is stated by the words.
Non-linear thinking, deconstruction of individual words and a somewhat unconventional visual look are the three techniques that I wanted to focus on in creating an elegy for Chris.
Kind poetry colleagues tell me that I have a broad range of styles within the poetry I write. More honestly, I’m all over the place. I write in free verse for the most part and don’t often write in forms. However, when I attempt to write a poem, I usually look for some kind of organizing principle. It may be an extended metaphor or an overarching mood, however, often it is something about how the poem looks on the page. I am constantly searching for a different way to place emotion and/or intellect on an empty white space. A few years ago, I wanted to write about gun violence. Other than the title, “You Do the Math,” it was written only with numbers. I find some of the work by Mary Szybist a revelation. In her latest book, Incarnadine, one poem is written as a starburst. Another is written as a diagrammed sentence. Poems such as these fascinate me. “No Doubt About It, (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” lives in that neighborhood of visual variations that I sometimes attempt.
Once the poem was finished, I didn’t intend to submit it anywhere for publication, however, I was reminded that Little Patuxent Review’s reading period was ongoing and the theme was Doubt. I certainly was aware of the proximity of Little Patuxent Review to Chris’s world in Baltimore. Submitting the poem here seemed to be almost destined. When the poem was accepted for publication in the Winter Issue 2013, I was more than thrilled. Being published in Little Patuxent Review was no small accomplishment. It was another step up. The poem’s publication was somewhat of a validation of the kind of poetry that I had begun writing in 2006: poetry that is less narrative, more image driven, more concerned with the architecture of the piece on the page.
In January, when I was first notified by Mark Bibbins about the poem’s inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2014, I first thought it might be a joke or online hoax. I don’t have the kind of ego that walks around wondering why the world hasn’t discovered me. When I found out that the poem was chosen by guest editor, Terrance Hayes, whose work I’ve read closely and loved since 2010, I was stunned. I am profoundly grateful to him and series editor, David Lehman, for choosing “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat).” I know that there are thousands of poets in America who write wonderfully creative, intellectually and emotionally moving poems. I’ve been fortunate and will always remain thankful.
I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish country, part of the larger South Central Pennsylvania area, which includes the cities of Lancaster, Harrisburg, York and Lebanon.
I host a monthly poetry reading series, the Lancaster Poetry Exchange, with help from a marvelously talented poet, Jeff Rath, that’s been running since October 2007. It has the dual purposes of showcasing local poets as well as bringing in poets from outside the area. Maryland poets such as Meredith Davies Hadaway, Virginia Crawford, Pamela Murray Winters and Cliff Lynn have all read for the Exchange.
I am also the publisher and chief editor of a now-yearly poetry journal called Fledgling Rag. Its genesis was my belief that there are talented, creative poets who reside outside the major and minor metropolitan areas of America. I contend that there are great poems being written by poets who are somewhat invisible to the larger world, such as Harrisburg’s Marty Esworthy, York’s Rebecca Gonzalez and Lancaster’s Jeff Rath. Fledgling Rag, in a small way, attempts to make those poets a bit more visible. There is always a strong South Central Pennsylvania presence in each issue, however, we don’t impose any geographical restrictions in deciding which poets are included in each issue. Each issue has one featured poet. The last three featured poets were Marjory Heath Wentworth, the poet laureate of South Carolina, Michael S. Glaser, former Maryland poet laureate, and Yona Harvey, creative writing professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Three of Chris Toll’s poems, including “The Abyss Has No Biographer,” appeared in Issue 10.
There are diverse poets, with different writing styles and subject matter throughout the South Central Pennsylvania area. There are poets of place, poets of protest, language poets and experimental poets. Quite of few successful and respected poets use poetic forms as a basis for their work. I’m excited by all of it. That is why my own poetry can be so varied. My work and my non-writing activities seek to bring together my internal world, my immediate world and the larger poetry world together. Isn’t that what we’ve come here to do?
Note: Le additionally supports his larger poetry world (or “extended family“) through his publishing endeavor, Iris G. Press. In addition to being the outlet for Le’s aforementioned Fledgling Rag, Iris G. Press has published several books. Have a look at more of Le’s work and the work of his poetry family there. The Doubt issue where “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” first appeared can be found here.