Sunday, March 15, 2015
Book Display at Kostroma Regional Library
Judy's poetry books in the Kostroma Regional Library,
I learned recently that the Kostroma Regional Library will be having an exhibit of my poetry books this month. Tatiana Podvetelnikova of the Kostroma Regional Library in Kostroma, Russia, is arranging it. They have an ongoing Readers Corner on their internet site, where they feature books by their Sister City authors.
Link to Kostroma Library Readers’ Corner:
There have been, between 1989 and now, many exchanges between Durham and Kostroma people: doctors, librarians, business people, artists, and writers. In 1990 I traveled to Kostroma as the guest of Mikhail Bazankov, head of the writers’ organization there, and we did four exchanges of our writers by 1993. After that, we did many cooperative publishing projects, including the publication of Earth and Soul: An Anthology of North Carolina Poetry in a dual-language edition (2001). I met Tatiana then at the library. Earth and Soul went out to all the libraries and schools in the Kostroma Region, which is about the size of North Carolina, with Kostroma as its capital city. In 2009, both cities celebrated twenty years of exchanges, and I read my poem From Sun 15 at our celebration in Durham about what it was like for me to live in Kostroma for three months when I was teaching at Kostroma University in 1995.
FROM SUN 15
For the people of Kostroma and especially my friends here,
while looking at a study by Sergei Rumyantsev and a photo
of Nadya Belikh with her grandsons, Alyosha and Mitya.
And Paradise? I found it here.
And what is Paradise? My father
told the story of how, when people
died, they went to heaven or to hell,
but, in either place, their problem was
they couldn’t bend their elbows and
hence couldn’t feed themselves.
The people in hell starved, he said.
But in heaven they figured out that
they could feed each other. So my
Paradise is like that, and my soul
is as happy as an empty boat,
bumping against the bank, waiting
for the next good thing that Life
here has in store.
In the ancient city
of Kostroma my soul is overflowing
and not only with happiness.
In the painting the boat is empty.
An approaching storm clouds the
water and ruffles the hair of the
trees on the opposite bank. But I
know that soon the boat will
have its passengers again, just
as I, from time to time, have my
You see, I feel like a forest
creature living alone in my tree
stump. Not many people do live
alone here. Three generations often
share the same apartment. Every
day the other creatures and I come
out of our tree stumps. We carry
our bags to the market. Sometimes
we ride the forest trolley, packed
in tight like honey crowded into
the comb. In the market we buy
a wedge of delicately flavored
Kostroma cheese or some butter
so fresh that you think it came
from the cow only yesterday,
and probably it did. Old women
sell carrots, potatoes, beets, and
parsley they grew themselves.
They line the carrots up on the
table so everyone can see just
how many carrots are in a
kilogram. The parsley they wrap
in a little bit of newspaper or in
an old book from Soviet times.
I always buy more than I can
easily carry home. I can never
decide which pears or apples,
oranges or bananas to buy, so
I do it whimsically. I feel like
a squirrel who has been out
gathering the nuts the wind shook
loose in the night when I arrive
home with all my trophies. Then
I go out again for hot bread,
fresh milk, kefir, and sour
cream ladled from a bucket
into my clean jar. The cheese
and fruit, bread and sour
cream are for my guests.
There’s company coming tomorrow.
And as we talk and eat and
laugh, feeding each other as we
do in Paradise, our souls grow
heavy with words that say just
what we mean, just what we
feel, and with the look of loved
faces, just as in photos that
hold fast some moment: a
day midsummer when the
grandmother stopped her work
to pick flowers with the children,
two boys, one blonde, one dark,
squinting at the sun, lying on the
grass and leaning comfortably near
the body of the woman who held
the red pail while they ran this way
and that to pluck daisies and other
wild grass flowers. Behind them
the Russian forest, as always,
gives its blessing. It’s never
that far away in Paradise.
Here, when we feed each other,
we all hum with happiness,
as if we were carrying buckets
and buckets of honey but felt
no weight. We can’t sleep for
happiness when our guests
have gone home.
without work? No, in this paradise
we’re all working, and sometimes
we wish life were easier, that
we could buy more and better
meat, have sour cream more often,
and not just when guests come.
The children are sick, some of the
food we saved for the winter
has spoiled, and it’s not even
winter yet. And winter does
come in Paradise. We put on our
furs early this year. The November
wind has a piercing bite. We get out
our fur hats and go to hear Beethoven
played in the Philharmonia Hall.
Never mind that the North Wind is
blowing in snow that feels like
needles when it hits the face. We
will leave our coats at the desk
and hear our musicians tune up
for a night of forest wonder. For
music is the language of the heart,
and when we all play from the heart,
we find the path to Beethoven’s
tree stump. And his passion comes
alive again in the air; then everything
else is forgotten. We may be lying
in a boat on a placid pond or
clinging to a lower limb of an
elder oak, but we don’t know
for some minutes where we are.
We’re in the music and inside
the fingers of the musicians and
in the strings and lost from ourselves,
lost, happily lost, in our own souls.
And you think that such a place
is easy to get to, easy to find?
Oh, no, not at all. It’s, in the first
place, guarded by an angel with a
sword in his hand. If he moves
the sword even a little, a flame
runs along its edge. And all who
fear for their own safety turn back.
That flame scares them more than
the sword itself and much more
than the angel, who has guarded
his post so long that he can do it
in his sleep or while he reads the
newspaper. Only the brave in heart,
who love more than they fear,
may enter this forest and live
as simple creatures do live in
their cozy bungalows. The angel
is wiser than he knows. His
heart’s understanding runs in
his veins. He doesn’t have to
explain anything to himself or
to you. But you can expect him,
on your fourth morning in
Paradise, to show up with a sack
of new-dug potatoes from his garden.
Judy Hogan, written in Kostroma, November, 1995, and read on the occasion of the 20-Year Anniversary of the Sister Cities relationship between Durham, N.C., and Kostroma, Russia, November 15, 2009.
Tatiana put From Sun 15 into her literary corner. Now she plans to put my poetry books, including the newest one This River: An Epic Love Poem. The Russians are celebrating Literature this year and in Kostroma the years of our sisterly relationship. We who lived through those years of friendship and cooperation between our cities know that our good Russian friends could not be our enemies. There are too many bonds of affection spanning that ocean that lies between us.
I also received yesterday a review of This River from Roberto Bonazzi in San Antonio. Part of this review will also appear during April (poetry month) in the San Antonio News-Express. Bonazzi published my collection Light Food in 1989 through his Latitudes Press. This review also includes a review of another poet Tad Cornell.
Judy Hogan’s 100-page epic love poem reveals ecological aspects of the muddy Haw River in North Carolina, which flows as the Volga in Russia, near where her love resides. The unrequited love poem is for Mikhail, who is married but loves her also, and with whom they created a sister city exchange. “We are working together beside our two rivers which, though six thousand miles apart, rush toward the same ocean.” Poets have imagined rivers as time, yet she asks, “What is ocean but the river that holds the world in place and reminds it of eternity?”
Throughout Hogan personalizes the river with natural, unforced imagery. “This river has two/incarnations. She is the Volga at night not letting me sleep; making me listen to the urgent message her moonlit water carried me as I stood, half awake my heart’s door swung open. . .” There is an earnestness in the lines—often prosaic, at times lyrical—that typifies Hogan as a “Romantic” poet. But who else would embark on an “epic love poem” except one capable of loving? She loves every aspect of the river where she meditates. Her observations remind more of Thoreau on Walden Pond than romantic verse. Some sections read like love letters during an era before emails, but Hogan avoids the sentimentality and self-pity of unrequited love.
These poets are not part of the commercial publishing establishment, but their authentic voices have contributed to American literary culture: Judy Hogan as writer, teacher, editor, and publisher of Carolina Wren Press, bringing over 100 authors into print; and Tad Cornell as a dynamic performance poet and a tantalizing innovator. Both had early connections with independent imprints in Texas. Cornell, who now lives in Philadelphia, had two titles from Latitudes Press when he was a social worker in Houston; Hogan, a North Carolina resident for decades, also published a book with Latitudes and had close ties with Thorp Springs Press in Austin.