Sunday, February 22, 2015

This River: Reader Responses

This River: An Epic Love Poem. Judy Hogan 2014.  $14. paper.
Wild Embers Press, Ashland, Oregon.

Reader Responses:

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.

Margaret Martin:

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.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Giving Our Gifts Makes Us Rich

GIFTS VII. June 15, 2014

The daily commerce of our lives–“sugar for sugar and salt for salt,” as the blues singers say–proceeds at its own constant level, but a gift revives the soul.  When we are moved by art, we are grateful that the artist lived, grateful that he labored in the service of his gifts.
The Gift, Lewis Hyde

How hard it is to live in present time,
relish the moment after the hens are put
to bed, and the night sky breathes its 
blessing down on our heads.  Each
day may feel familiar, but it has never
come before, and out there somewhere,
in the minds and hearts of other people,
messages are forming.  Yesterday, 
when I took copies of Bertha’s writing
and my own about her to her son, 
his smile was beatific.  How glad I
am that Bertha hugged me that Valentine’s
Day in the post office twelve years ago.
We became friends.  Today we bury
her, but her gift keeps moving, and so
does mine.  I praise Kathleen I scarcely
know for her big gift, and I can tell
it lifts her spirit.  Edith helps me find
who the people are in my grandmother’s
diary kept in China a hundred years ago.
She says she has to get back to her 
own work, but she keeps helping me.
If I could save this village from the
fracking companies about to descend
and ruin our land, homes, lives, I
would.  I chip away, and I can tell
I edge some people closer to 
comprehending the harm with which
we are threatened.  Every one of us
is fragile, and yet some of us are
tough, too.  So little we control,
but if we give our gifts as best 
we can, we all grow rich.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What Are My Gifts?

My orchid in 2012 with one bloom stalk.  It is beginning its blooming now and has 20 bloom stalks.  It likes its present site in my window near the computer.


GIFTS I.  Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014

The only essential is this: the gift must always move.–Lewis Hyde

I describe myself as gifted, but what
are my gifts?  First, my Deep Self
guides me.  I follow, even when
bewildered.  My words resonate 
with a power given to me, and I 
must give them away.  Some people 
brush past me, look the other way, 
even castigate me behind my back, 
fearing my power, which I scarcely
notice.  I’m seeing what’s there 
and speaking out.  When my mind 
gets foggy and I’m discouraged,
something mysterious breaks through.
Suddenly the yellow green leaves
in the awakening woods are 
illumined by morning sun, a gift
that dissipates the fog.  Or I meet
a woman who knows who I am,
and her words rush out.  “I want 
to take a class with you, even 
a chicken workshop.  I want to
write.”  I hand her my supper tray
to hold while I dig out a pen and 
write down her email on a paper
napkin.  She knows what I give.  
Parents, grandparents, wise 
teachers, and elders have given
to me, and I have used those
gifts well.  I’ve written books, 
shared how I think and live.  
Sometimes it feels like no one 
notices, but then someone holds 
my new book up and calls it 
“fascinating.”  I must give my
gifts away as fast as I can while 
I have breath.  I see people
more accurately now, see them 
whole, tragic flaws and all.
I see myself as others see me.
Some shy away as if afraid
to be scorched by my inner 
sun which keeps burning
in my being’s core.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Coal Ash Problem in Central North Carolina

Coal Ash Problem in Central North Carolina

Here in Lee County and Chatham County in central North Carolina, we have been put in harm’s way by Duke Energy, the only public electric utility company now in our state and the largest one in the nation.  After their merger with Progress Energy, they inherited or already owned 130 coal ash ponds, unlined, near coal-burning electric plants all over the state, all of them by rivers which also provide water for those in the area.  The problem is a state-wide problem, but we here in Chatham and Lee have been chosen to receive, in old clay pit mines from brick making, 20 million tons of the total of 150 million tons of coal ash that the state is now requiring Duke to clean up.

There is no doubt that Duke Energy has a lot of power and influence.  They are the Goliath in this battle, and we citizens of two counties which get our water from the Cape Fear River, are the David with our slingshot.  Furthermore, Chatham’s own coal ash ponds near the old Cape Fear Steam plant are also leaking into the river.  In fact last spring Duke was fined by our Dept of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for pumping coal ash water directly into the stream that fed the river.  Some of the state’s riverkeepers photographed them from the air.  Our particular 5 Cape Fear coal ash ponds are in trouble, too, because the dam holding the coal ash ponds back from the river is breaking.

As David we here in Chatham/Lee have been busy.  I have for years believed that public opinion could change things, though sometimes it’s slow.  Since Duke unveiled its scheme to haul coal ash by truck and rail from the Riverbend plant near Charlotte and the Sutton plant near Wilmington last November, our Chatham and Lee County commissioners have both voted resolutions to stop any coal ash coming into our counties.  The state law allows Duke to bypass the will of local jurisdictions, but our local governments are fighting alongside the citizens.  

We have organized into two citizen groups, one in Moncure, which is the village nearest the site in Brickhaven where the dump is planned, and the other is in Lee County, along Colon Rd, and recently the Lee county group, called Environmental Lee, met in a church on Colon Road, and drew a large audience.  Yesterday they also held a march in downtown Sanford to call attention to the plight of Lee County people.  We are writing letters, putting up signs, getting the word out to our fellow citizens.  Newspaper and TV reporters from Durham, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Raleigh, and even Los Angeles have been interviewing citizens in our counties.  

Our Chatham County commissioners invited Duke and Charah, the company Duke has hired to carry out the dumping, to speak to them about their plans.  To hear them speak, you would think coal ash was harmless.  We, however, have learned to be skeptical.  Duke staff even denied last May that they had deliberately pumped coal ash pond water into the river.  They called it “normal maintenance.” 

Coal ash is hazardous and toxic, even though a recent EPA ruling said that it could be treated like ordinary landfill garbage.  We know better.  Coal ash contains arsenic, chromium, selenium mercury and lead.  It can also be radioactive.  It has been a year since the bad coal ash spill into the Dan River last Ground-Hog Day. 70 miles of the Dan River were polluted by about 80,000 tons of coal ash. DENR now considers the river safe for drinking water and fishing, but local people deny this.  There is much less wild life in that area.  For more information on the overall coal ash picture, check out: 

A Coal Ash Commission has been appointed to oversee the proper disposal of coal ash, and Duke has until 2029 to do it all.  The Commission, however, in response to our citizen letters claims that it has no power with Duke Energy’s current plan.  Simply capping the coal ash ponds on site is not acceptable, according to Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. [See WRAL article above]. 

The likelihood is that the toxic ash has already seeped into the ground water.  The ash shouldn’t be moved.  Yet Duke plans to move it.  The Blue Ridge Legal Defense Fund (BREDL) recommends that turning coal ash into salt stone and storing it in large concrete bunkers on site is the safest way.  BREDL also learned that there are nearly 100 active and inactive clay mines all over North Carolina.  They have also released a story that Anson County may be another county target to coal ash from Riverbend and Sutton, if Chatham and Lee don’t work out.  See their website for these stories:

Coal ash is a nation-wide problem, neglected for decades.  Duke Energy likes to see itself as a good neighbor and often makes charitable contributions.  Meantime they keep raising their rates, and the coal ash cleanup will be passed along to their customers, those who survive this toxic plan.  When I spoke on Jan 20, the day that the Duke and Charah officials came to our county’s commissioner meeting on their plan, I pointed out that we no longer trust Duke Energy, as its employees don’t tell us the truth. Even the big honchos who came to the Chatham County Commissioners meeting January 20, are, in my opinion, suspect. They focused on trains, but it will be awhile before a train spur can be built.  The first news was that there would be 120-140 trucks a day.  As I live on a road that is main route to and from the Brickhaven and Corinth Roads parts of the county and also a connecting road via Highway #1 to Colon Road in Lee County, I’m not thrilled at the idea that these trucks will be flying in clouds of coal ash dust down my road in Moncure.  

Back on December 15, 2014, I spoke to our Chatham Commissioners:
My name is Judy Hogan and I speak to you to ask you to do all you can to stop the coal ash dumping in Brickhaven near Moncure. 

I consider the two main issues of our time being, first, to take care of our planet Earth and not to pollute it so badly that we destroy the only home we have.  Second, we human beings need to learn to see all other people who share our planet village as equally human, so that we never reduce any group to being sub-human or unimportant.  If we can learn these two things, then we may save our human race and our only possible place to live in this universe of ours. 

At present the American justice system has allowed a major flaw, which flies in the face of the American Constitution for it is allowing corporations to be treated as single human beings.  For these corporations we are sub-human.  They are focused on their profits and so they feel free to create waste, which harms human beings as fracking does, and as coal-burning does, and then dispose of that waste in such a way that we real human beings will suffer soil, air, and water pollution and the health and life expectancy effects of that.

Our North Carolina Legislature is allowing our only public utility company, Duke Energy, to dump its dangerous coal ash wherever it wishes without consulting the local jurisdictions, our towns, and counties.  All they need is a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).  Duke plans to bring up to 20 million tons of coal ash from the Charlotte and Wilmington areas by truck and rail to dump in the Moncure (Brickhaven) and Sanford Colon Rd. areas.  They further have the gall to say it won’t hurt us. 

We have learned that these corporate “people” lie whenever it suits them.  I personally heard the lies when their illegal behavior had already been documented last spring.  The Duke staff told me that the coal ash flowing into our water source in the Cape Fear River was below the Sanford water intake, when in reality it was above it. An aerial map documents this. We citizens appreciate whatever our BOC can do.  We need you.  Judy Hogan, Moncure 919-545-9932

Note: the Commissioners already had a resolution to ban coal ash on their agenda, and they passed it that day, December 15, unanimously.  JH

Chatham website:

Environmental Lee website: