EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Rounding the Human Corners by Linda Hogan
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2008)
Linda Hogan's wise poem, "The Way In," in her book Rounding the Human Corners, ends with the line
to enter life, be food
That's right: not to eat food but be the one eaten, thus giving life (to others) with one's life. It's a lesson understood and deeply felt by those who understand the nature of--and give--service. For instance, Hello Jesus Christ: one whose life is given to save others....and now doesn't he live forever through what others say about him and take from how he lived his life?
This life-as-community perspective surfaces in other poems in the book, including "Enigma" which is not about camouflage, as the excerpt below might suggest; I share the excerpt below because I am moved by how the ability to be one with others must rely on knowing--which is to say, recognizing--others:
On which day of creation did the insects appear,
the one that looks like a leaf
with all the green veins,
the one that mimics a twig,
the mantis I picked up,
the color of my skin as if it could hide there,
the eye-winged moth, watching,
the beetles who wrote their stories in wood
before they flew.
I wasn’t at any of their births
and know I missed the fashioning of angels
who have learned to hide their great lives.
The two lessons combined from the above can say something, by the way, about the path to fame ("to hide their great lives"). It’s a petty point as fame is often a petty point—but I note it because Rounding the Human Corners offers poems as pathways exploring the many connections within the universe. Let me share another poem, “Alone,” through an excerpt:
Once I heard about a hunter
standing on ice
waiting for a seal to come up to breathe.
Waiting, lost in thought,
he found himself
adrift, floating toward the sea
with nothing to anchor him.
Maybe, on his knees, waiting for the animal
to surface and breathe,
he’d been thinking of the beauty of lasting dawn
or how one morning
light fell across a woman’s thin-fingered hand
beautiful from work.
What if, for a man lost
in the wide, cold reach of sea,
no boat glides toward him, no rope is thrown,
or the woman with beautiful hands doesn’t miss him?
Even so it would be beautiful, the blue, the white
That line “he found himself” only to continue in the next line’s first word, “adrift,” is an example of the meticulous craft Hogan exercises. But I don’t want to workshop the poem. Let me just share how the poem then continues on to
In this place they say
the whales are children who died
and didn’t want to return as humans.
That’s why they smile so beautifully
moving up from dark water
to take a breath
emerging to look at us a moment
before floating back into the unknown.
Doesn't that remind you of the horrific massacre of 20 children in Newtown? (Yes, let us never forget Newtown.) The reminder doesn't rise in a vacuum. Hogan first masterfully set up the evocation with her lyricism, readying the reader to be so moved that powerful elements can be evoked in the reader's memory and past (including shared past with others). That effect speaks to the worth of these poems, and why I highly recommend this book--it doesn't just make you think but makes you think about those things you hadn't realized you wanted to re-think.
P.S. Sometimes, poems should just be allowed to speak on their own behalf. While William Kittredge's Introduction made good points (e.g. his point about the materiality of "the actual," it was mostly a distraction, at least for Moi. I suggest ignoring it ahead of your reading of the poems; later, you can return to Kittredge's essay if you wish. But do yourself a favor and experience these poems unmediated.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. An exception is made for the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA as that was co-written with another author, j/j hastain--and it is reviewed by T.C. Marshall in this GR #20 issue. She is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Tom Beckett at L'Amour Fou; by Amazon Hall of Famer Reviewer Grady Harp on Amazon and elsewhere; by Joey Madia at Literary Aficionado; by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field; by Zvi Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; and by jim mccrary and his cat Iris at Babaylan Poetics. Her 2007 book, SILENCES: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOSS, was also recently reviewed by Nicholas T. Spatafora in Litter Magazine.