Sunday, January 25, 2015

Susan Broili's Review of This River: An Epic Love Poem

Cover of Judy Hogan's new book This River, an epic love poem.

Susan Broili’s review of This River published January 18, 2015

REVIEW: “This River, an epic love poem”
SUSAN BROILI, Special to The Herald-Sun

Judy Hogan’s book-length poem “This River, an epic love poem” takes readers on a journey anchored on the Haw River in Alamance County but not limited to that place. The real sojourn takes place in the poet’s heart, soul and imagination.

“This River” speaks to the transformative power of love both on a universal level throughout time and also on an individual level, specific to this poet and time, more than 20 years ago, when her story takes place.

Told in 30 related poems, this story’s narrative drive courses through this work like a river at flood stage. There’s suspense as she awaits the arrival of the Russian man she had met a year earlier in Kostroma, Russia. He had invited her there to work on a series of writers’ exchanges between Durham, and Kostroma, Durham’s Sister City. At one point, his arrival for his first U.S. visit is just four months away, and then, only two days. Just how this ends, however, won’t be revealed here so as not to spoil the story for new readers.

Suffice it to say that most of the time, the poet feels confident in the love between her and this man. But sometimes she has doubts. Poem 19 begins with a litany of signs of certainty she finds in the natural world such as “the cottonwood seedling that has rooted itself in a cracked rock.” When doubts surface, she remembers another sign, the sweet gum’s “stars” she finally saw last night. This reminds her “to pay attention. That’s easy enough and you do know how.”

Hogan has been proving her ability for keen observation up to this point and continues to do so. Her descriptions bring the Haw River environment to life, puts us there to smell the clean-scented though muddy water and see the wildlife that comes near her as she sits, day after day, on the rock near the beaver dam in Saxapahaw as she writes — except when it rains. Within a few feet of her, geese swim, fish leap, large turtles surface to glance her way. This spell she casts is magical and comes from her strong sense of wonder, kindled by her close attention to this place.

Metaphors abound, the most basic being the river as the current of feelings between her and this man. The river also stands for feeling at one with him. Both know rivers — he the Volga that flows through his city. Both rivers eventually reach the sea. “We are hinged by ocean,” she writes. Finally, she identifies herself with the river. “I am a river. I must do what the river does, move on and on. I must love my banks.”

This work also testifies to Hogan’s fierce dedication to the practice of her gift for writing — a daily practice for more than 40 years that has resulted in a large body of work: journals, poetry, non-fiction, fiction.

Publications include books of poetry as well as two mysteries.

In “This River,” she writes of what it takes to keep writing: “It means giving close attention, making an extra effort every single day.” This means making choices. “We must choose carefully every day, balance within ourselves and within the day our needs, the needs of others, our most urgent tasks, and what we will let flow past us, never to return.”

Her example and this advice could also inspire others to express their own voices, their unique gifts, while they still can, for the river of time stops for no one.


Judy Hogan will read from “This River, an epic love poem,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21 (also featuring poet Jaki Shelton Green) at the Regulator Bookshop, 720 Ninth St., Durham.  

At 7 p.m. Jan. 27 she'll read at Durham's South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Ave. This library reading is sponsored by the Durham County Library Foundation.

On March 11, Wed, 7 PM, Judy will read again with Jaki Shelton Green at the Chatham Community Library in Pittsboro.

On April 1, Wed, 6 PM, she will read at the Wayne County Library in Goldsboro, with a two-hour workshop on publishing to follow.

On April 9, Thursday, 7 PM, Judy will read with Shelby Stephenson at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.  Both Jaki Shelton Green and Shelby Stephenson are recent inductees into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.  JH


Photo: Submitted/Courtesy of Judy Hogan
Judy Hogan with feathered friend. (Special to The Herald-Sun/Mark Schmerling)
Submitted/Courtesy of Judy Hogan

The publisher of This River: An Epic Love Poem is Wild Embers Press of Ashland, Oregon, under their Watersongs imprint.  The book design is by Antoinette Nora Claypoole, editor.

The artwork on the cover is by Sergei Rumyantsev.
The interior artwork is by Mikhail Bazankov.

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