Secular Pantheism by Matthew Hupert ’78. I have been thinking about this title. Pantheism, a religion that believes that the divine or God is immanent in nature, is at the opposite pole from the secular, which sees neither the divine nor God anywhere. While this poet appears to be mostly secular, when he lifts moments, thoughts, experiences, relationships out of the big unprocessed pile of reality and fixes them into a poem, he imbues them with something very much akin to the sacred. This sanctifying touch elevates the main subjects of this collection – love, poetry, and family. Yet the profane is never very far away. His zingers are razor-sharp and often funny. If you read these poems, be sure to get to the very end.
Never has love at first sight been so dramatically rendered as in “2190 Days.” It is only in the final verse that we, like the poet, are bowled over by le coup de foudre. “On Becoming Your Husband” describes the struggle to find a fit metaphor to depict a lasting marriage. The poet considers crystal because it “bends all light so everything is/ reflection and refraction,” but notes that crystal can shatter. The poem shows the process of evolving the right metaphor; the poet looks for something less fragile than crystal, yet with crystal qualities. At last, he figures it out: creating a permanent marriage is analogous to his poetic toil: “The beauty is in its cut the work put in/ to shape raw crystal/into sapphire heart & diamond mind/ and it can
only last forever.”
“It’s hard to poet in a stable refrain” is one of the funnier poems. What, the poet wonders, will happen if the “she” in his poem is not the “she” in his life? He is caught: on the one hand, “instability is poetry fuel.” On the other, it’s hard explaining to a partner that “poetry isn’t autobiography.” “My Mind is Full” gives an idea of just far from autobiography poetry can be. A profusion of fancy tumbles from the poet’s mind onto the page: “alabaster elephants thundering along jungle paths,” “an obsidian tower atop a basalt crag,” “a line of sopranos singing my secrets.” But it is in “a mother requests recommendations for a 10-year-old boy who wants to write poetry” that we find the most charming tips for any aspiring poet. He suggests reading Dr. Seuss, Whitman, and e.e.cummings. (All three certainly inhabit this collection). The advice in this poem would open the neophyte’s senses and heart. My favorite line: “have ekphrasis and meatballs for supper.”
The most poignant parts of the book concern the poet’s parents. Matthew treads this territory with just the right distance and closeness. “Dementia” and “Requiem” particularize what everyone who does not die young has to endure. The prose piece “Jeden das Seine,” recounts the misery the author’s father suffered in a concentration camp. He was so hungry his name was Hunger. He encountered cruelty that defies imagination. Yet he survived.
I hope people read this. Love, family, poetry, humor, the sacred, and the profane are all in this poetic attempt to piece together a meaningful life.