Reviewed by Pete Mladinic
Telling You Everything
by Cindy Hochman
Paperback, 40 pages, ISBN-13: 979-8986274331, Nov 2022
The poem “Root” begins with You have to go to the root of things. Cindy Hochman does just that in this collection of twenty-six poems. There are shades of culture, politics, Ukraine, Brooklyn, natural entities, human-made things, and the poets Whitman and Dickinson. Language is life, and this poet’s love of language is obvious. It might be inaccurate, or limiting, to call Hochman a language poet. She is also at times surreal and always inquisitive. Her poems are characterized by wordplay, self-seeking, and inclusion of others. “Root” continues:
When a hurricane blows hard through the precious petals they don’t come back..
But sometimes they do, arriving at your feet with bulging blooms from Emily’s wild but prissy garden and a fragrance that wafts from Amherst all the way to your neck of the woods.
Hochman’s wordplay, exuberance balanced by precision, is nearer to Dickinson’s garden than the language poet’s keypad. Many of these are prose poems, so while in format they appear similar, each has a life of its own. Although quite brief, the title poem “Telling You Everything” takes in a lot and leaves a lot of room for the reader. It begins “I am” and there’s a selectivity that seems at once ordered and spontaneous, with keen attention to the language of dangling modifiers, chocolate bars, razor blades, and moans. A reader comes away refreshed by the poem’s originality. It’s a poem of possibilities and hope. In “Self-Referential” the poet says, I was born with a caul and a calling.
Emily Dickinson’s “tell all the truth but tell it slant” comes to mind in reference to Hochman’s self-seeking. In “Losing My Mother at Age 5” beauty is wrought from the pain of her loss. And she was gone in a cloud of blond silk. There is pain but also beauty in the gorgeous marble eyes at the moment they turn to stone. The next poem in the collection, “Swan” is also poignant, as she speaks of kids who can indeed be cruel as they filched my dollar bills and spare change, leaving only remnants of lint… Yet it’s a self-seeking inclusive of others. In “Leaving the Light On For You” she says, our mouths can meet / at the edge of the crease/ between stanzas. One poem that illustrates this poet’s “slant” way of looking at the world is “Secret.”
If you tell me your secret—
I will keep it under my derby hat
I will keep it under my green beret
I will tuck it under my satin pillow
I will dissolve it under my hungry tongue
The self is revealed in things and textures. While there are biographical elements, No corn silk or corn stalks, for I was a purebred Brooklyn wench she is anything but the narcissist next door. Hungry but hardly self-absorbed, Hochman lives in a world with others near and far.
Other directedness is built into the title of this collection, Telling You Everything. In “Bob’s Old Kitchen” the poet invites readers into Bob’s world. Bob’s kitchen has a fridge full of cheese wedges that laugh, laugh, laugh, and a bear that has hibernated for years in there. And in the next poem she says, I am the girl who prays for Ukraine.And in “Stochastic Thoughts” she is the girl with a Ferris wheel in my pocket.In the collection’s final poem “Inner Life (With Sabotage)” Everyone gives me flowers to fill the fissure between limbs and loss. One of the givers is in “Swan” the Spanish teacher who, after kids have put something sticky into my..hair..cut out the mucky sludge with scissors.Hochman is very cognizant of cruelty and the kindness of strangers and the warmth of family and friends.
To read Telling You Everything is to come away refreshed and revitalized from Hochman’s, original way of looking at the world and seeking her place in it. This is what poetry is, this is what it can be. It comes out of a life fully lived. In Brooklyn. Where Hochman continuously learns something new from an old situation. Tell me everything, tell me more.
About the reviewer: Peter Mladinic’s poems have recently appeared in Divot, Mad Swirl, Bluepepper, Off Course and other literary journals. An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico, USA.