« 1976 | Main | 1974 »


(Photo credit: The Academy of American Poets)Presentation Piece 

By Marilyn Hacker

Original Publisher: Viking Press
Current Publisher:
Out of Print but available in a new collection, First Cities: Collected Early Poems, 1960-1979: Presentation Piece, Separations, Taking Notice.

Megan Snyder-Camp writes:

Marilyn Hacker’s debut collection, Presentation Piece, published in 1974 when the poet was just 31, awarded the Lamont Poetry Prize in addition to the National Book Award, is a stunningly tight and bold collection of formal poems. Hacker is especially drawn to the villanelle and the sestina, two demanding French forms composed of prescribed, rotating sequences. Hacker’s structure and her engagement with the edges of formal limitations is also what her work is about—what drives the work is an urgency as sexual and vital as it is formal and precise.

Formalist women poets have few historical models, unlike the near-overwhelming canon of formal poetry written by men. Some feminist poets, like Annie Finch and Marilyn Hacker, see this historical lack of critical attention as an opportunity for contemporary women poets to make tracks in the open field, liberated from the burden of influence. As Annie Finch notes in her 2005 essay “Female Tradition as Feminist Innovation,” “Formalism presents us not with big stale husks but small growing seedlings, not the discouragement of huge closed books but the challenge of open, relatively empty pages.”

The brilliance of Hacker’s debut is not that she emerged as a master of formal verse, or that the content of her poems fearlessly and inventively merges intimate, literary, and political territory, both of which are true. Her brilliance is how she truly weds form and content, forging a startling and compelling link between the polyglot and the polyamorous. The turning, and chafing, against the almost-too-tight formal constraints in which she situates her work are met with imagery that is physical, sexual, bloody. Here are poems about threesomes, assaults, war, suicide—poems that ask, as in the title poem, “Bite / on your lip; do you taste what I do?”

In addition to the internal repetition and accretion that mark the villanelles and sestinas, Hacker often carries a word or phrase from one poem to the next, so not only each poem but also each section, and the collection as a whole, foregrounds this turning, snowballing motion of the thing examined, turned in the hand, considered, changed. Hacker’s mind on the page moves quickly, doubles back, shifts. At times she is of two minds at once, or so it can seem from her ability to cast a repeated word or image in starkly different light. What often emerges from her torqued refrains is a new, third thing, made by the arc of our reach.

Presentation Piece introduces many of the themes that would become central to Hacker’s poetry. Exile, as an actual gulf between home and refuge, and as Hacker’s interior engagement with what binds the perennial and the polyglot, is at the center of one of the book’s first poems, “Exiles,” which depicts the distance in an intimate relationship between two women. It opens:

Her brown falcon perches above the sink
as steaming water forks over my hands.
Below the wrists they shrivel and turn pink.
I am in exile in my own land.

Wry humor provides a counterpoint to the intensity of much of Hacker’s work, as in this passage from “She Bitches About Boys”:

 but I, for one, have had a bellyful

of giving reassurances and obvious
advice with scrambled eggs and cereal;
then bad debts, broken dates, and lecherous

onanistic dreams of estival
nights when some high-strung, well-hung, penurious
boy, not knowing what he’d get, could be more generous.

Hacker’s poems engage language as tangibly as they do the body. In the poem “Cities,” for example, she writes, “There was a word like a lozenge on your tongue / and words buzzing the height of the darkening room,” and, in “Forage Sestina,” “Words will peel off you, revealing the structure / of a human body branched with wires.” Or this, from “Nightsong”: “it’s not my fault that you are beautiful / as a refrigerator full of words.” Hacker’s concern with structure and skeleton is mirrored in her interest in maps, travel, and the movement between languages. In her inventive “Imaginary Translation” series, Hacker speaks directly to the reader—“You know the plot, how the traveler, / too rich or too poor..”—through the gauze of unfixed voices and narrators.

“Polyglot” is a word that Hacker uses often, referring not just to the languages she slips between—English/French, married/polyamorous, heterosexual/lesbian, academic/streetwise—but also the way that she stretches pairings into triangles, suggesting a third possibility when offered a choice between two. In this way her work enacts the social and political activism of which she speaks; her refusal to take simply what is offered, her blueprint for inventing that necessary, elusive third thing, and teaching it to sing in harmony with the earlier duality, is nothing short of revolutionary.

Megan Snyder-Camp's first book of poems, The Forest of Sure Things, is a deconstructed domestic narrative set in a small, historically preserved village on the Pacific Northwest coast. Her poems have appeared in Field, the Antioch Review, Smartish Pace, Hayden's Ferry Review, and elsewhere. She recently received an Individual Artist grant from Washington's 4Culture Foundation to support her current work. (Photo credit: Laura M. Hoffmann)

Poetry Finalists that Year:

  • A.R. Ammons for Sphere
  • John Balaban for After Our War
  • Albert Goldbarth for Jan. 31
  • Richard Howard for Two-Part Inventions
  • Josephine Jacobsen for The Shade-Seller
  • Michael Ryan for Threats Instead of Trees
  • Susan Fromberg Schaeffer for Granite Lady
  • David Wagoner for Sleeping in the Woods
  • Reed Whittemore for The Mother's Breast and the Father's House 

Poetry Judges that Year:

  • Karl Malkoff, L.E. Sissman, Mona Van Duyn

The Year in Literature:  

  • Turtle Island by Gary Snyder won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.            

Other Information:

  • Marily Hacker was born in the Bronx, NY in 1942.
  • Hacker is also an award-winning translator.
  • In 2009, Hacker won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation and the Robert Fagles Translation Prize for her work on King of a Hundred Horsemen by Marie Étienne.

Suggested Links

Buy the Book

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (209)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (23)

Thanks for writing such a nice information. You doing great job on your site. Please keep up the good work.

January 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBuy Tyvek Wristbands

I have been researching every aspect of a possible career move. This post is very helpful and shows that you have a lot of knowledge on the topic.

January 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMrpweddings.com

Thanks for sharing such nice information with us. Please keep on posting so that I can keep myself updated.

March 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbuy assignment online

nice bLog! its interesting. thank you for sharing....

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdéménagement laval

I really like this women and her poets

August 5, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterobat gemuk tradisional

I really like this women and her poets
obat gemuk herbal

August 5, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterobat gemuk tradisional

Very fine. This is very good post. You just said everything! Thanks, also you can check out this URL if you want!

I have read your blog it is very helpful for me. I want to say thanks to you. I have bookmark your site for future updates.

Budgeted flats in mangalore

September 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLandmarkinfratech

I believe one of your advertisements triggered Life Insurance Calgary my internet browser to resize, you might want to put that on your blacklist.

September 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLife Insurance Calgary

The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.

September 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAustin TX Realtor

At GuardNow Security Guard Services, our highly trained armed-security guards serve as the foundation of our success and client satisfaction.</p>

September 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterArmed Security Guard
October 12, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersuccessedge

Nice Post...
Sobha Dream Acres

October 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterharinivarshan

Hey, this is the most valuable guide I've ever been gone through.
I'd like to thank's for all your resources for this awesome work.


November 5, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterserver management company

This is a good post. This post gives truly quality information.

December 14, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterlow car insurance

This is one of the most important blogs that I have seen, I added it to favorites and i’ll be your constant reader. I am so thankful coz I have frequented here and came across all this amazing information! Commodityonlinetips

December 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBadrish

Aress offers a complete package for Outsourced Hosting Support Services and IT Support Services that can change the way you manage and operate your information systems. We have been providing premium 24/7 Tech Support services in the USA, Asia-Pacific and Europe.

December 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKate Walls

Thanks for sharing..
Builders in Mangalore
At buildersinmangalore.in we have listed all our projects that have been successfully completed and are going to be open for sale according to the location, prices and facilities available. A customer can go through the view of the rooms and locality in general on buildersinmangalore.in as well to make a better and informed decision of choosing the flats.

December 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbuildersmangalore

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>