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.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Remembering Our Treasures

This is Judy and her son Tim in Albuquerque, 2007.  

This blog is my first one posted with my new computer.  Thanks to Doug Williams, I'm moving into the future, if slowly.  I have Windows 7 and Word Perfect 7, up from Windows XP and Word Perfect 4.  I found my old files and I learned how to create and save new ones.  I still feel somewhat bewildered, but here's a poem I found.  I hope you enjoy it.  Back in June I was struggling with what to do with my life if fracking came near me.  Now it's coal ash dumping threatening, but I think I'll be able to stay here.  I work toward that goal every day.  Here's a poem from my long poem Gifts, which I'm still writing. JH

GIFTS V. June 1, 2014

The art that matters to us–which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living ... that work is received by us as a gift is received.  The Gift, Lewis Hyde

Sometimes the soul labors–never in vain.
We could try to forget, block out the bad 
news, bury ourselves in oblivion, but that 
never did work for human beings.  
The way we are made demands that we
see.  If we close our eyes and stop our
ears, we suffer the torments of the
damned.  If we step out into the light,
even if we are the only ones who see
where the light is, we suffer but not
without meaning, not without joy.
I am afraid of so much change.  I built
a life I love, worked out a balance of
writing and learning work and outside
engagement with garden, orchard, hens;
the wild birds, the increasingly 
unpredictable seasons.  I still grow
food, the orchard trees, vines, bushes 
will bend their branches down with
fruit.  The weeds I’ve fed the hens
keep them productive.  The weeded
carrots and beets flourish now.  I
don’t want to leave this bounty, but 
if air, earth and water are poisoned?
Then I must.  I have words streaming
forth.  My life must stand behind them,
else I help no one and lose my very Self.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: Show Me the Gold by Carolyn Mulford

Show Me the Gold.  Carolyn Mulford.  Five Star/Cengage, New York, San Francisco, Chicago.  ISBN: 978-4329-2990-2. Hardcover $25.95.  304 pp.  Release Date, December 17, 2014. Available in bookstores: January 7, 2015. 

In her third Phoenix Smith mystery Carolyn Mulford sends her acting Vandiver County sheriff Annalynn Keyser, with Phoenix as her backup, to an abandoned farmhouse in a neighboring county where a group of Cleveland bank robbers is holed up with assault rifles.  In the ensuing gun battle, one robber is killed, and youngest one is wounded.  Two men seem to have escaped.  Sheriff Towson has only an interracial couple helping him, the woman cop being pregnant, hence the plea to Annalynn to bring help.  

Phoenix’s dog Achilles, by his behavior, warns Phoenix, Annalynn, Towson, and his deputies not to enter the house.  Phoenix guesses the doors are booby-trapped with explosives. The FBI is already involved because it’s a bank robbery.  The loot includes some valuable gold coins.  Even though Phoenix tries to keep a low profile as to her former CIA undercover work, she is suspected by the FBI of having the gold or knowing where it is.  The remaining identified robber, Roscoe Cantree, has served a prison sentence, and also suspects that Phoenix knows where the gold is.

Each of the threesome of women featured in the series, Annalynn, Connie Diamante, and Phoenix are going through personal changes. The town’s newspaper editor, Vernon Kann, wants Annalynn to run for the House of Representatives and step down from being sheriff. Connie, whose musical talent is normally providing little income, is directing a production of the musical Oklahoma at the local Laycock Community College, and Phoenix is having to decide whether she wants to become seriously involved with Stuart, who works with the Drug Enforcement Administration.  Stuart’s mother was Phoenix’s high school math teacher and is all for the couple getting serious, but Phoenix is “gun shy” of such a commitment.

The dog Achilles continues to add a wonderful human tone to these novels, as do the various minor small town and rural characters, like the Greek widow of the former shoe store owner, Mrs. Tesopolis. Phoenix gradually becomes more a part of this town where she grew up.  She helps Connie with the musical auditions and rehearsals and also Annalynn, who is investigating whether Mrs. Tesopolis is suffering elder abuse at the hands of her daughter and son-in-law.

Although she is still tough and capable of handling very dangerous situations, Phoenix is relaxing and taking her guard down more often.  She still manages to be one step ahead of the law enforcement officers, including the FBI man, in any given situation,.  Annalynn wants to keep her out of danger, an impossible goal, given Phoenix’s training and background.

This is a fast read, but I like the slower scenes best, where we learn more about the characters.  Each book in the series reveals more about the trio of women.  Fortunately novel four is already in the works from Five Star for 2015.


Carolyn Mulford decided to become a writer while attending a one-room school near Kirksville, MO.  After earning a B.A. in English from Truman State and an M.A. in Journalism at the University of Missouri, she received a different kind of education as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia.  She worked as a magazine editor in Vienna, Austria, and Washington, D.C. and then became a free-lance writer and editor.  She changed her focus to fiction with her return to Missouri.  Her first novel, The Feedsack Dress, was honored as Missouri's great read at the 2009 National Book Festival.  Her first mystery novels, Show Me the Murder and Show Me the Deadly Deer, came out in 2013.  She blogs about her writing on her website,

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Gift of the Muse

This was my blooming Christmas cactus in the kitchen window, 2011.  Now there are two, thanks to David and Connie


GIFTS IV.  May 25, 2014

Inspiration from outside one’s self is like the heat in the oven.  It makes passable Bath buns.  But inspiration from within is like a volcano.  It changes the face of the world.  Alan Bradley in The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag.

We also rightly speak of intuition or inspiration as a gift.  As the artist works, some portion of his creation is bestowed upon him.  The Gift.  Lewis Hyde.

Volcano isn’t the image I’d have chosen.  
It’s more like a silent companion.  You 
forget it’s there until it begins humming, 
and you can’t write the words fast enough.
I have compared it to metal heating up
so that it becomes pliable; to a musical
flow when the tune gallops.  It’s always
a surprise even when it has happened
many times before.  Unpredictable even
if you do create rituals to encourage it to
visit once again.  Then, afterwards,
hard to believe.  Is what I’ve written true?
Do I think this?  Yet I’ve never known
that deeper place whence words spring
freely into my mind to lie.  I have to
run to keep up with my own revelations.
Not a bad thing.  I didn’t want life to
be easy.  I wanted to leave some mark,
some words valued when I’m no longer
here, some gift that others want to keep.
The new young teller at my bank 
tells me she liked the poem I left.  
This, too, I never expected.  She
read how my Deep Self guides me, 
and I follow even when bewildered.
Those words didn’t roll off her.  They
soaked in.  A gift to me.  People
don’t tell me all they feel, but I do
receive back new gifts when I give
my gifts away.