Making History Bearable: Lynda Hull and Reading Newark
Hull was writing against detractors who sought to merely dwell on the reasons the cities should be abandoned, such as Edward Banfield or Tom Wolfe. Banfield, an adviser to Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, for example, sought a cost-benefit analysis for racism and poverty, and did not believe the government could feasibly address these problems, or even should. Wolfe, in Bonfire of the Vanities, treats the urban landscape during this period similarly, but without maintaining his affection: “The trains of vehicles inched forward in a cloud of carbon and sulphur particles toward the toll gates;” “His memory had drowned in the night, and he could feel only the icy despair.” Hull instead presents an original way to view the urban crisis. It synthesizes divergent sets of knowledge, activates both classical and contemporary notions of memory, and an empathic mode of questioning her material. Besides the overpowering beauty of her language, she gives a subversive attention to cities that were not thought of as sources for meaning other than defeat. Hull has creatively changed the ways we know what happened to the cities, and what it was like at the moment we were witnesses to it happening.
…Hull’s kinetic sense of rhythm, her searching, meditative narrative, and her unflinching interest in finding beauty in Newark, even at its ugliest moment, all move language to present a fresh way to see the urban crisis.
Reading Star Ledger, it becomes apparent that the poet’s kinetic sense of rhythm, her searching, meditative narrative, and her unflinching interest in finding beauty in Newark, even at its ugliest moment, all move language to present a fresh way to see the urban crisis. Her voice synthesizes private memories of a fraught childhood in the Newark area, the public memory of what happened in the summer of 1967, and an empathic mode of questioning these memories. The empathic person speaking in her poems looks forward and plans ahead with a sense of artistic and political freedom. Imagination is the connection-making aspect of intelligence, and Hull’s allows for multiple, conflicting emotions to coexist. She describes that of what we have been unconscious, while preventing erasure of those fresh sense impressions. Her poems last as beautiful objets d’art, but more than that, they decrease normalized indifference and state her values, her general affection for cities, and her intention to tell the reader: an empathic reading of cities cannot be corrupt. We should care about Lynda Hull because she wards off not only outside messages of defeat, but also those within our own at times shallow selves. The city need not be limited to feelings of defeat, but can be sought as “that thing which shines.”
- Empathic questioning, as opposed to Socratic questioning, helps writers express their “innigsten Empfindung” — innermost feeling. (Bly, Carol. Beyond the Writers’ Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction. Berkeley: Anchor Books, 2001. 58.)
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