poem index

About this poet

Lynda Hull was born on December 5, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey. After coming of age in the suburbs, she ran away from home at the age of 16, having recently received a scholarship to Princeton. She married a Chinese immigrant from Shanghai and spent the next ten years moving among various Chinatowns in the United States and Canada.

By 1982, she had reconnected with her family and begun to study poetry seriously. While working toward an undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she met the poet David Wojahn, who she later married in 1984. Over the next several years, she received graduate degrees from John Hopkins and Indiana Universities and lived briefly in a number of cities in the U.S. and Europe. Her longest permanent residency was in Chicago, where she was living when she wrote many of her last poems.

Her books of poetry include Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2006); The Only World: Poems (1995); Star Ledger: Poems (1991), which won the 1991 Carl Sandburg Award and the 1990 Edwin Ford Piper Award; and Ghost Money (1986), which won the Juniper Prize.

Influenced heavily by Hart Crane, (Hull had allegedly memorized his long poem The Bridge in its entirety), as well as jazz musicians (some of which she references), Hull wrote poems charged with lyric exuberance and haunted by ecstatic references to drugs and material decadence.

In his introduction to her Collected Poems, Yusef Komunyakaa wrote, "Hull's poetry creates tension through what the reader believes he or she knows; it juxtaposes moments that allude to public history alongside private knowledge. Thus, each poem challenges and coaxes the reader into an act of participation." About her work, the poet David St. John also wrote that "of all the poets of my generation, Lynda Hull remains the most heartbreaking, merciful, and consoling."

Hull was the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council; she also received four Pushcart Prizes. She taught English at Indiana University, De Paul University, and in the MFA writing program at Vermont College. She also served as a Poetry Editor for the journal Crazyhorse.

Hull died in an automobile accident in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on March 29, 1994.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Ghost Money (1986)
Star Ledger (1991)
The Only World (1995)
Collected Poems (2006)

Lost Fugue for Chet

Lynda Hull, 1954
		Chet Baker, Amsterdam, 1988  

A single spot slides the trumpet’s flare then stops
    at that face, the extraordinary ruins thumb-marked
with the hollows of heroin, the rest chiaroscuroed.
    Amsterdam, the final gig, canals & countless

stone bridges arc, glimmered in lamps. Later this week
     his Badlands face, handsome in a print from thirty
years ago, will follow me from the obituary page
     insistent as windblown papers by the black cathedral

of St. Nicholas standing closed today: pigeon shit
     & feathers, posters swathing tarnished doors, a litter
of syringes. Junkies cloud the gutted railway station blocks
     & dealers from doorways call coca, heroina, some throaty

foaming harmony. A measured inhalation, again
     the sweet embouchure, metallic, wet stem. Ghostly,
the horn’s improvisations purl & murmur
     the narrow strasses of Rosse Buurt, the district rife

with purse-snatchers, women alluring, desolate, poised
     in blue windows, Michelangelo boys, hair spilling
fluent running chords, mares’ tails in the sky green
     & violet. So easy to get lost, these cavernous

brown cafés. Amsterdam, & its spectral fogs, its
     bars & softly shifting tugboats. He builds once more
the dense harmonic structure, the gabled houses.
     Let’s get lost. Why court the brink & then step back?

After surviving, what arrives? So what’s the point
     when there are so many women, creamy callas with single
furled petals turning in & upon themselves
     like variation, nights when the horn’s coming

genius riffs, metal & spit, that rich consuming rush
     of good dope, a brief languor burnishing
the groin, better than any sex. Fuck Death.
     In the audience, there’s always this gaunt man, cigarette

in hand, black Maserati at the curb, waiting,
     the fast ride through mountain passes, descending with
no rails between asphalt & precipice. Inside, magnetic
     whispering take me there, take me. April, the lindens

& horse chestnuts flowering, cold white blossoms
     on the canal. He’s lost as he hears those inner voicings,
a slurred veneer of chords, molten, fingering
     articulate. His glance below Dutch headlines, the fall

"accidental" from a hotel sill. Too loaded. What do you do
     at the brink? Stepping back in time, I can only
imagine the last hit, lilies insinuating themselves
     up your arms, leaves around your face, one hand vanishing

sabled to shadow. The newsprint photo & I’m trying
     to recall names, songs, the sinuous figures, but facts
don’t matter, what counts is out of pained dissonance,
     the sick vivid green of backstage bathrooms, out of

broken rhythms—and I’ve never forgotten, never—
     this is the tied-off vein, this is 3 a.m. terror
thrumming, this is the carnation of blood clouding
     the syringe, you shaped summer rains across the quays

of Paris, flame suffusing jade against a girl’s
     dark ear. From the trumpet, pawned, redeemed, pawned again
you formed one wrenching blue arrangement, a phrase endlessly
     complicated as that twilit dive through smoke, applause,

the pale hunted rooms. Cold chestnuts flowering April
     & you’re falling from heaven in a shower of eighth notes
to the cobbled street below & foaming dappled horses
     plunge beneath the still green waters of the Grand Canal.

Copyright © 2006 by Lynda Hull. Reprinted from Star Ledger with the permission of the University of Iowa Press.

Lynda Hull

Lynda Hull

Lynda Hull was born on December 5, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey.