Beaver Soul by Judy Hogan. Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY, $12 (with NC tax, $12.81; by mail from Hogan, PO B 253, Moncure, NC 27559-0253. $14.50. ISBN: 978-1-62229-324-7, 32 pages. Publication Date (delayed) October 1, 2013. Cover drawing by Mikhail Bazankov, and the drawings I've pasted below on this blog as well. Thanks, Mikhail!
Translator’s Introduction to the Russian edition (1997)
Judy Hogan lives in North Carolina, in the United States. She is a pioneer-discoverer among American poets who have visited Russia in its new time. Judy arrived for the first time in Russia in the summer of 1990. Then she also lived among us in 1992 and in 1995. She visited both in our cities and in the Russian villages near Kostroma.
This kind and hardy woman, who has known many sorrows in her life and who has a talent for capturing subtle impressions, came to understand and feel close to Russia. Her poems about the villages near Kostroma and about the settlement of Komarovo near Peterburg became naturally part of a great cycle of poems she began in North Carolina. She calls it Beaver Soul.
These poems are written by a poet who is reflective, keenly observant, and is continuously getting acquainted with the world. At first glance they remind one of the poetic notes of a phenologist [one making a study of the different phases of plant and animal life]; the changing of the season, the habits of the animals and birds, the death and resurrection of the leaves. But only at first glance. Judy continually weaves the golden thread of her lyric meditation and her philosophical comprehension of nature, its creatures, and people, into the fabric of her observations. Her own soul in her poems is associated with the image of the beaver–a builder, patient and persistent in its work and in taking care of its family. And everything that takes place in the beaver’s life–its joys and sorrows, its misfortunes and successes–corresponds to events in her own life. The motto of Judy Hogan is creating and overcoming.
I trust that the Russian reader will feel close to the world of her “beaver soul,” the world of this poet who is so interested in our natural world, our people, and the problems of the growing intimacy between our countries; in the writings of a poet who already loves us and feels what we feel.
Welcome to the beaver lodge–the poetic home of Judy Hogan.
St. Petersburg, Russia
BEAVER SOUL 1
On the Haw near Saxapahaw December 29, 1991
The entrance to her house is flooded,
but she must have known it would
happen. Where is she? Sleeping, in
an upper chamber, snug between the mud
above and the river’s lapping near her feet.
The geese are more bewildered, and
have roosted in the woods on this side
of the river. Does she know how to
build so the water can’t reach her
or will she have to swim out when
the rains are all drained into the
swelling river tide and cover her bank?
She does make mistakes. I’ve seen
the evidence. Trees that never do fall,
though felled by her patient teeth. And
I’ve saved the gnawed globes she makes
when she gives up in one place
and begins to bite her way through in
another. It isn’t so much that she’s
free of error, as that she has an
excess of determination and the patience
to go with it. And she will work
on what she believes in. I’m like her,
this beaver who understands the river,
not perfectly but in all the ways that
matter. I’ve inherited, by long study,
her beaver soul. And so, I, too,
build my lodge by the river. I will be
as nocturnal as I need to be, as canny,
as whimsical with my teeth, and
as long-lasting in my faithfulness.
I have learned to work, not just in
the world’s sense, no: in the house of
my spirit, where my beaver soul sleeps
by day and labors indefatigably by
night, night after night, whether it’s
cold or warm, pouring down rain or
brittle with the wind’s iced breath.
I have learned to work on the problems
of existence, of how we are to live
wisely within and without ourselves; how
we are to grow strong and competent and
yet stay simple and approachable; how
love may carry us over the arbitrary
fencing we human beings so love to construct
around ourselves for safety and convenience,
only, of course, we fence ourselves in.
We lose the thread our lives were meant to
unravel and illumine. We lose all that we
mustn’t on any account lose: our very
selves. Guarding destroys us, and we don’t
even notice. Our ritual dances of enmity
obsess us and we slake ourselves on
polluted water, forgetting what spring water
is like; the memory of that clean,
quenching taste lies buried in oblivion.
We bury our souls with us. It takes
suffering to work all this old hate
loose and float debris out of our ken
and help us recognize what we do so
easily love, and why. My beaver soul
knows what she wants. She’s emphatic,
slapping her tail hard on the water when
my doubts plague me, and I’d rather do
something easier than this, which asks no
less than all of me. My chance is here.
It arrives like a thousand red-winged
blackbirds landing in my woods. I see
them alive and in motion on every tree limb.
I hear their chorus. They are talking
about me. They give me about ten
minutes. I walk steadily forward on
my same familiar path. They accept me
and move only a little way ahead. They
discuss me loudly and make up their minds.
Then they grow still. A thousand voices
replaced by silence and the lifting of
two thousand quiet wings. They won’t be
back. They pour down the sky, traveling
upriver a-ways first, then South.
I am where I was before, but changed.
Clear again. My soul condensed a little
more; letting go a few more things that are
needless to worry over. Today the river is
richly brown with mud. Harbinging spring.
The sun has turned. This rain will bring
up daffodils; the red wings won’t have long
in their Southern waters; and the geese will
be mating for nests of eggs, come March.
Back cover blurbs:
Judy’s writings about the natural world use metaphors as a way of exploding the bounds of perception. Her poems are informational, compressing experiences, and continue over a span of thirty years to help us see the likenesses between systems of human, plant, animal, and celestial worlds. Judy teaches us how to use our poet eyes, how to guide us to truths beyond the scientific way of seeing, weighing, measuring, abstraction, and dissection.
–Jaki S. Green, 2003 winner of the North Carolina Award, 2009 Piedmont Poet Laureate
These are love poems. The heroine-hero is the Earth. In this way, Judy Hogan’s poems remind me of Thoreau’s journals. Like Thoreau, she is a natural-born lover of anything that grows, anything original, most particularly the earth that looks after itself continually... You hear Emerson’s world in the background, that yearning to transcend the self. To do this the poet must keep open house to the world. So Judy Hogan writes within the romantic sensibility. She is a passion child. Her structure is the old and classical kingdom’s.
--Shelby Stephenson, Playing Dead and Play My Music Anyhow, Finishing Line Press.