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Hoke Glover——Poems, Music, and Life


Hoke lives a very interesting life, not only because of his experience of writing poems, researching African music, and also being a professor, but also his attitude toward life. From New York to Wuhan, he is always trying to grasp the flash points in his life. These things become true hearted poems for us, which are dynamic and touching. He is very popular with students. Some are into his poems, some are affected by his experience, and others think highly of his teaching. With the curiosity about him, we have an interview with him. Talking to him inspires us a lot, which showed us a world that we haven’t seen before.


Q1: When did you begin to write poems?

Hoke: I was probably about 16 at that time. But I started writing seriously when I got to undergraduate school, about 25 years old. I went to graduate school and studied poetry. I was studying for a master’s degree and poetry in 1997. I’ve been writing poems for a long time.  

Q2: So why didn’t you write poems in university?

Hoke: Actually, I was writing poems in that period, but I wasn’t officially studying poetry. I was an English major, which is different from a writing major. The writing major is creative writing. In undergraduate years, I was a poet in essence.  

Q3: At what time will you choose to write poems, at daytime or at night, in a good mood or in a bad mood?

Hoke: It’s a typical poet question. Everyone wants to know when you write and what moods you are under. I’d like to say one of the most famous African American poet, Langston Hughes. He always wrote poems when he was sad. But for me, writing is a habit. I don’t think about my mood. Sometimes I write at night, sometimes during the day, sometimes in the middle of the day, sometimes I have no pad or I have a dog. I don’t do that as much now. When I first started writing, I would write at all time. And during the last 20 years, I almost wrote every day. I would always spend at least an hour, sometimes much more on writing. It depends on my family and the other responsibilities that I had outside of being a poet. And the longer you write, the more you understand you need both. You need inspiration, and you also need a discipline.  

Q4: Do you want to learn some Chinese poems? Do they have some different features from English poems?

Hoke: I’ve studied Chinese poems in translation. The sense of form in Chinese poetry, which is governed by tones, is quite different from that in English. As the more I study Chinese, the more I’m looking forward to reading Chinese poems in Chinese. I can come on a more philosophical approach to the poems I read. But to really understand the forms, you have to know the language. And I don’t understand this language in a sophisticated way, therefore, I cannot learn the essence of the poem.  

Q5: We’ve read three poems of yours, whose tones are sad, and we’re interested in this poem called “Speak”. What’s the background of this poem?

Hoke: I don’t think my poems are sad! I think it goes to your earlier question about for what I understand about Chinese. I think it’s easier to paint images in the Chinese language, and the images exist in connection with other images that have been around for a long time. English is an argumentative language, so it works in a different way. Being able to get into a reader’s mind is one of the difficulties of English poetry. So figuring out how to create a poem and give them the images that stay in their minds is part of what I’m doing in my poems.  

In this particular poem, something there is simple like shoes which is a part of everyday life. I die many deaths, which could be considered sadness. But then what happens is death becomes the cycle of life. So what I mean death is not the death of a person but the cycle of people’s growth, and change, and saying goodbye to things. Every language has its own sort of systems of metaphor. And a lot of English creativity is designed to make metaphor fresh. And that’s the part of what I’m trying to get at.  

I’m a poet; I died many deaths, and I want to grow out of shoes. So I’m trying to take the metaphor of death and apply to things that are more innocent. Sometimes poets can deal with sadness but not be sad. The poet is a witness. We witness the sadness in life but it doesn’t really mean that we are sad. The last image in this poet is fire. The poet touch the fire, which I think is hopeful. Because no one can touch a fire without getting burnt. But the poet touches the fire with his hand and put it on the lips.  

(The poem and its translation are as follows)  


I am poet  

I die  

Many deaths  

When a line ends  

When a child  


Out of its shoes  

When sorrow  

Marches across the front  

Of the newspapers  

Or the season makes  

It rain, and the city freezes  

To ice  

I touch  


My hand glows  

I place it  

On my lips  

















Q6: So do you know who is the translator of this poet?

Hoke: Yeah, I know. His name is Gao Xianxin(高显欣). He is a graduate student here. He did me a favor. And he also took me to his home town to experience the life there.  

Q7: Who is your favorite English poet?

Hoke: I think it’s Jack Gilbert. He is from Pennsylvania. One of his books is The Great Fires. I read his books maybe twice a week. I only brought ten books with me when I came to China and three are his. He is an unbelievable guy. I’ve read many poems but I like him most.  

Q8So you talked about music just now. Are you doing the research about African music?

Hoke: Yes. And I love music. You call it research, but it is an academic word . I enjoy music. And my children, and many people I know in America are musicians. So sometimes I work with musicians. And then when I went to the graduate school. I did get the chance to study the connection between American blues musicians and African musicians. A lot of African Americans regard African music different from American music, but if you study African music and listen to it , you will find how a group of people went into America and then based on their experiences to create the music. You can hear the same sounds.  

So I take a lot of study. It sounds academic, but in some ways it is inevitable like African Americans have to do that, because our history is very depressing if we only imagine how we began the US. Our music is so fascinating. It’s fascinating because it’s the product of African history and culture that it’s bigger, greater and stronger than that in America. So when it comes to America, it keeps working and doing what it does and creates the best music in the world. It’s probably the most precious culture treasure in America.  

Q9: Do you think American music has something in common with Latino music?

Hoke: Latino music is very similar to African American music, but African religion and culture like African drums, dance, music, singing and poetry are all like one thing.  

When you have a festival in Africa, it’s always singing and dancing. Everyone in the world does, but all of those things are combined in Africa. And Africans who went to the world, who came to America, who became slaved, are not all went to America. Many of them went to South America, many went to Central America, and many went to islands in the Caribbean.  

So when they went, they took their music with them. In Europe and America, they outlaw Africans playing drums, because the music is their culture that make them together. When they played the drums, they got stronger. Americans banned the drum. But in the Caribbean, for a lot of reasons, drums and their culture exist in different ways. Spanish colonialist allowed people to play drums, and it makes the type of the music. It’s the African culture that came to America, those different places that put it there. And many of those people still to this day, practicing understanding African religion in culture in ways that many African Americans don’t because of the different cultural environment.  

Q10:Why did you come to China?

Hoke: I came to China for many reasons. You know I play Taiji and I have been playing it for ten years in America. The style I played in America was Yang’s style. And so I want to study Chen’s style, but I don’t know whether I can finish it after I came here. I learn a very short form——san shi san shi Taiji. That’s the really most important thing. The real reason I came here is to practice this and to learn more about the Chinese culture. But Chinese culture is too big, you learn more and you feel like you learn less.  

Q11:What’s your favorite Chinese food?

Hoke: I’m very simple. I don’t eat too much meat, but I like the spicy  noodle soup with vegetables. When I feel not happy, I would go anywhere to eat it. So that’s probably my favorite.  

At almost the end of the interview, Hoke showed the photo of his elegant wife to us. They have known each other for 5 years , which sounds like a plot in the movie. But I think his life is truly a movie itself. After the interview I’ve been thinking about the word YOLO(You Only Live Once).And maybe it’s the time for us to start experiencing our lives like him.  















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