Sunday, December 14, 2014

This River is Loved

This River: An Epic Love Poem was released December 1, and we celebrated with a book launch at my Hoganvillaea Farm on Sunday afternoon, December 7.  I want to say that This River is a visionary poem, and that I was fortunate for it to be chosen by a visionary editor, antoinette nora claypoole of Wild Embers Press of New Mexico and Oregon for their new Watersongs imprint back in August 2014.  Antoinette nora’s vision for the design of the book and its presentation was strong, and sometimes my vision of the book and hers clashed, but the resulting actual book is richer for her work, both in its imagery and its design, which are well-integrated with the flow of the poem.  We were also fortunate to gain permission from his wife Yevstolia for using Sergei Rumyantsev's study of the Volga River, which is normally on my wall in my computer corner.

When I described it as also a river poem, because I wrote the poem over time while sitting beside the Haw River above Saxapahaw and used the river and its life for imagery, antoinette nora said: “I know you like focusing on the environmental/river aspect of your story, but do you realize how the LOVE of another is what carries it?  It is Love which makes the river flow.  Without your love of Mikhail, there would be no river at all.  It is like that for all of us on this planet.  Without love, nature dies.”

Something else is happening deep inside me, so profound that I only begin to grasp it.  Because this long poem, in which I describe openly my love, felt taboo, I was afraid of people’s responses–generally–but, instead of being disapproved of for publishing it, I am being praised for the beauty of the poem and the beauty of the book design.

Two recent responses that said so much to made me feel very rewarded for trusting my words of love on the waters of the world:

“Thanks for sending me a copy of “This River.”  It’s a beautiful-looking book, first.  Then I read the introduction and was intrigued and moved, so I immediately and unexpectedly--since I was at work with mound of work stuff to address–started reading the poem.  I had to stop eventually, but I got a solid ways in and will return to it tonight.”
“I keep reading a couple of sections a night asking my disbelieving self if the next part will really be as great at the last.  Each time it is. This is a wonderful and amazing piece of work.  It is soul work and soul guidance.  I hope others realize how great it is.”

This River had been rejected by publishers many times, and yet antoinette nora accepted it at once when she received my query, and she soon revealed her love and enthusiasm, rare among editors, in my experience, even when they choose to publish your book. Then my women friends astonished me by their enthusiasm–the ones I asked for blurbs, Jaki Shelton Green, Joanie McLean, and Foster Robertson Foreman, and Sharon Ewing and Susan Broili, who agreed to review it.  You’ll find the blurbs in my blogs Oct 11 & 16, Nov. 23, and here’s Sharon’s review from the Dec-Jan issue of Chatham County Line:

Review of This River: An Epic Love Poem, by Judy Hogan, Wild Embers Press, Watersongs Imprint, 120 pp., $14.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”  Muriel Rukeyser.

This quote was used as a T-shirt logo for the 1991 Women’s Narrative Conference, “Tell Me a Story That’s True,” held at NCCU. In the Preface to This River: An Epic Love Poem, Judy Hogan confesses her earlier reticence not in writing about taboo subjects but in publishing that writing. With the publication of this poem, she dares to share her experiences twenty years ago of acknowledging, accepting, and living with her unconsummated love for a married man and of her certainty that this love was returned. Living into this state was nurtured by her growing understanding of the Russian concept of soul, ДУША (dusha.) She also writes: “The love we felt and expressed covertly in letters was never consummated, but it became the fire that fueled our work together. We trusted each other. We argued and we adapted to each other’s cultures as necessary . . . Perhaps it was the largest passion of my life, after my desire to write. It is the time, however to share this whole story.”

This River is a series of thirty meditations written over a year and a half following the poet’s return from her first visit to Russia, a visit of only five days, but days that changed her life. The meditations, evoked by regular visits to the Haw River near the poet’s home in North Carolina, are the way she both nurtures and comes to terms with her life-changing meeting with her soul-mate and fellow writer, Mikhail, in the crumbling world of the Russian people as the USSR disintegrates. A life-long journal writer and close observer of nature, Hogan draws meaning and conveys it to the reader through metaphors that flow seamlessly from those observations. In a post-everything world, she is an unapologetic romantic: the natural world is alive with meaning for her, personification rises effortlessly, and she uses it unashamedly. Her opening line mentions a “resurrection fern . . . alive and well-watered” and we are launched. There will be death, but there will also be life. Immersion in the natural world both guides and consoles the poet. 

The central image of the poem is a river, but it is in many ways two rivers: the Haw River near the poet’s home in North Carolina and the Volga River that runs past the beloved’s home in Russia. Separated by thousands of miles, the rivers are joined by their eventual emptying into the ocean. Distance is overcome by metaphor. The river carries mud, but that mud nourishes the life along its banks, and when light strikes it, the river is golden. As the poet struggles to acknowledge and then accept a love outside her previous boundaries, the green of August yields to the ripe reds and yellows of autumn; but months later a no-show at the airport brings the outer world of physical realities crashing into her inner life – the poet’s understanding must grow, time and space take on new dimensions, work must fill the physical void.  Shared work and love stretch into a broad horizon, darkness of winter descends, but the poet sees the red glow in the darkening winter sky and holds on to her belief in the mutuality of love. 

The reader can revel in the rich imagery and language of this poem that reveals a complex inner life and know that the poet has faced herself honestly and overcome her earlier reticence. Her willingness to share that inner struggle with a personally taboo subject invites honesty from the reader and other writers. This poem ends, but the poem of her life will spill forth as long as this poet can put pen to paper.

The cover of This River, from an oil painting, “A Study of Volga River, Kostroma, Russia,” by Sergei Rumyantsev, a Kostroma painter and friend of the author, invites the reader to enter visually the world the poet presents through words. ”Heart Leaves,” an ink drawing by Mikhail Bazankov, who was  a trained artist before he was a writer, hovers above each meditation and draws the reader through the emotional course of the poem. Wild Embers Press has added another rich book to its Watersongs imprint.

This River: An Epic Love Poem will be available in December at Paperbacks Plus (Siler City), The Joyful Jewel and Circle City Books (Pittsboro). Judy will sign at Paperbacks Plus January 10, Saturday, 11-1 PM. She will read with Jaki S. Green at the Chatham Community Library March 11, 7 PM. 
Susan Broili promises her review for January, closer to the time of the Durham readings (Regulator Bookshop, Jan 21, 7 PM, and South Regional Library, Jan 28, 7 PM).

As Diane Winger wrote to me, a new book is a kind of birth.  This one had its birth pangs, but was well-worth them.  I realize I am now freed of certain deeply placed fears that some of my strongest feelings were unacceptable.  That self-doubt, which I hadn’t fully admitted to myself is now dissolving.  People’s responses have done that, and it’s still happening. I put part of poem three into my holiday letter, and it is stirring more than my holiday letter poems usually do.

Doug working on my computer.

For the launch a week ago, December 7, here at my home on my little Hoganvillaea Farm, Doug Williams came early to work on a computer transition he’s doing for me–a big gift.  Ted Bodenheimer, who took photos for two books I published under the Carolina Wren aegis back in the late 80s, A Living Culture in Durham, and Watering the Roots in a Democracy: A Manual on Combining Literature and Writing in the Public Library, agreed to take photos so these are his.

Left to right:  Judy, Doug, Carol, Billie, Ted.
Billie Hinton, a writer who lives a couple of miles away, came bearing flyers for our “No Coal Ash” fight and brought a delicious sweet potato curry, which we all enjoyed.  Carol Hay, who helps me so much by going over my mystery novels as a copy editor with her second pair of eyes to alert me to inconsistences and places that need work, came to pick up her pre-sale copy.  Later Billie’s husband Matthew, dropped by.

Left to right:  Judy, Carol, Matthew, Billie
We covered a wide range of topics: modern doctors and hospital experiences, staying healthy, horses (Billie and Carol are horse-lovers), the Middle East (Ted gave us an in-depth history); and my life for the last sixteen years living in an African American neighborhood and being supported in multiple ways by their kindness and protectiveness, known as “Miss Judy,” and sometimes greeted in the post office by folks I’ve never met, yet who already trust me.  Since I arrived in this little community, built around three rivers which converge here: the Haw, the Deep, into which the Rocky flows, to make the Cape Fear, which flows down to the coast at Wilmington, Moncure has suffered terrible pollution and has fought off a low-level nuclear dump, the transporting of irradiated nuclear fuel rods shipped by rail through our village, three landfills, terrible air pollution from eight factories, and now we fight both the fracking focused on our near Lee County neighbor, and two large coal ash dumps to be located within a few miles of us with an estimated 20 million tons of coal ash to be carried here by truck and train.

We ate, laughed, and I signed books.  Except for Matthew, the others had all taken classes with me and one who gave me a blurb had, too.  They are all good writers in their own right and very independent-minded truth-tellers.  It’s my privilege to be praised by truth-tellers.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Judy Hogan. 
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