2016 National Book Award Finalist, Poetry

Jay Hopler

The Abridged History of Rainfall
ISBN: 978-1944211264

The Abridged History of RainfallJay Hopler

Judges’ citation

The Abridged History of Rainfall is a core sample of grief. A father has died, a widow remains “in her marriage house,” and a man looks at a world made raw by intimate loss. All is too bright, the butterflies are a “combustion,” and the poet doesn’t know where all this rain has come from. With a heart as large as its keeper’s mind, Jay Hopler brings the age-old metaphors of loss down a notch or two, not casting them into oblivion but recasting them as troubled, needy companions. Hopler teaches us a search through rain doesn’t come easily, and that an elegy to a father is, at its purest form, a book of lonely praise.


Jay Hopler's second collection, a mourning song for his father, is an elegy of uproar, a careening hymn to disaster and its aftermath. In lyric poems by turns droll and desolate, Hopler documents the struggle to live in the face of great loss, a task that sends him ranging through Florida's torrid subtropics, the mountains of the American West, the streets of Rome, and the Umbrian countryside. Vivid, dynamic, unrestrained: The Abridged History of Rainfall is a festival of glowing saints and fighting cocks, of firebombs and birdsong.

About the Author

Jay Hopler is the author of Green Squall and the editor (with Kimberly Johnson) of Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry. The recipient of, among other awards and prizes, the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, a fellowship from the Lannan Foundation, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Rome Prize in Literature, he teaches in the writing program at the University of South Florida.


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Interview by Ricardo Maldonado

An Abridged History of Rainfall, Jay Hopler’s second collection, makes an impassioned argument for “the persistence of the beautiful thing:” if we were to see, or be able to, it would be agile in its metamorphoses, like “a sky thickening into storm.” We would find something of ourselves in there, too, in the prosody of our words, and our revisions; most things seem to exist, in any case, in the shaping and unshaping of the mind. What follows is a brief interview with Mr. Hopler, conducted over email, about his work.
Ricardo Maldonado: Where do you find the germ for a poem? What do you listen to—and, to quote your work, for?
Jay Hopler: For me, a poem starts with music. The music of a word, the music of a phrase. Once the music reveals itself, my job is to follow it without imposing myself on it. Since the music is everything, what I listen for is a song worth listening to. 

RM: Did the poems in your collection require a new kind of performance from you? Which old techniques, if any, did you abandon or modify in writing this book as opposed to your first; which ones did you discover or chance upon?

JH: Working on The Abridged History of Rainfall, I tried to abandon all of the techniques I used to write Green Squall because I had no interest in writing Green Squall again. I had nothing else to say using those techniques.Nothing worth saying, anyway. Whenever a hint of Green Squall popped up in a Rainfall poem, I burned it out. And when I couldn’t burn it out, I got rid of the whole poem.

RM: Did you find yourself exercising a different logic or theory for the line and/or line breaks?

JH: I am a completely intuitive writer. I follow the music; the music tells me what to do and I do it. That is, when I’m writing well. When I’m not writing well, that’s when I have ideas about the things I’m doing.

RM: Who else’s work do you visit when you write, and why?

JH: The work I visit when I write depends on the work I’m writing. Say I’m working on a poem—the way a line falls or the way an image takes shape might remind me of something Keats wrote in a letter to Leigh Hunt in 1817. I’ll dig up that letter and, in the process of reacquainting myself with it, I might end up immersed in Measure for Measure or Twelfth Night.

RM: Are there any concerns you see yourself working through and towards in your next collection?

JH: If the next collection is anything like the first two, I won’t know what its concerns are until I finish writing it.

Ricardo Alberto Maldonado was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He is the translator of Dinapiera Di Donato's Collateral and a recipient of fellowships in poetry from Queer/Arts/Mentorship and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is managing director at the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center.