This River: An Epic Love Poem. Judy Hogan 2014. $14. paper.
Wild Embers Press, Ashland, Oregon.
Pete MacDowell: [to his friends]
Friends, The most incredible poetry I have read is in Judy Hogan’s
This River, An Epic Love Poem. Now it happens that I love Judy Hogan as a person. She is an awesome local activist and I took a great course from her in writing poetry. When I read This River, which just came out, I kept asking myself: Damn, is it just me because I really like Judy, or is this as amazing as it seems. Each chapter kept confirming that it was actually that good. I sent the book to a close friend and asked him the same question. He said, No, it is not you. It is incredible poetry.
The book is a love story about an intense, though unconsummated, relationship with a Russian poet and writer. Love can light up the world, and it surely lit up Judy’s and through her, the reader. And this epic poem is a page turner. Think Romeo and Juliet in the US and Russia in their 50s talking through a translator. If you love the interior dialog of Jane Austen, intense feelings searching for clues from the other, with all that hope and fear, this is it. But it is also a deep meditation on our nature as a human species and our fundamental relationship with other species. The two rivers, at one level at least, are the Haw and the Volga. Judy did most of her writing from the banks of the Haw. Her feel for nature is transformative. She has a deep Taoist understanding of our link with nature.
An anonymous reader: 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 a 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.
You do have a kind aura, and I'm glad we're friends.
I am reading your epic poem. What a love story it is. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I wanted to write to you to tell you what a pleasure it is, to savor. Your yellow narcissus, the absorption through what can inadequately be called “observation,” and a little more accurately called “experience”–of the river of life as love, and all of its infinite images.
Achilles–the “good dead.” Daffodils are my lifeline. By holding still... Love begins in knowledge... “We can’t give each other what we don’t create for ourselves. I promise to keep on choosing the best” A better pledge for life I can hardly imagine. Thank you.
An anonymous reader (friend of Pete MacDowell’s)
I think the poem is wonderful. As someone said, it was a page-turner. On my first reading after a while I started rushing through the verses to learn how her life went. Then I could go back and focus on the poetry. It was all very beautiful. Specifically, I admire her ability to make poetry of the landscape and the river. But there’s also the wisdom. Here’s a section I like in #13. ..Isn’t it because human life has tragedy written into its plot that we cling to the lines we already know by heart? They have worked for us before, held back the losses we would do anything to ward off. If only we could hold back that curtain.. And later: ..Belief is hard though these leaves make it look so easy. They are new, yet they take their rightful place as though they’d never left it.
If you are interested in buying the book:
This River is available in local bookstores in central North Carolina, Regulator (Durham), Flyleaf (Chapel Hill), Paperbacks Plus (Siler City), The Joyful Jewel and Circle City Books (Pittsboro). Buy link for This River:
Good news: In the Kostroma (Russia) Regional Library in March 2015 there will be an exhibit of my books, including This River, Beaver Soul (1997 (in Russian) and 2013 (in English)), Light Food (1989), Sun-Blazoned (1983). This is part of a Sister Cities (Durham-Kostroma is one of them) celebration and also this year Russia is celebrating Literature. Tatyana Podvetelnikova arranged this.
Remember I'll be reading from This River in March and April:
March 11, Wed. 7 PM With Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame Inductee. Chatham Community Library, Pittsboro, Angela Burt, Branch manager, 197 Highway 87 North, 919-545-8083.
April 1, Wednesday, Wayne County Library in Goldsboro. Hogan will read from This River (6-7 PM) and offer a workshop on the current publishing scene (7-9 PM). Free and Open to the Public. For more information, Katherine Wolfe. 919-850-9129
April 9, Thurs, 7 PM. Reading at Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, with Shelby Stephenson, also a NC Literary Hall of Fame Inductee. 752 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. 919-942-7373. Supper first at 6 PM at the restaurant next door.