Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Review of Soon after Rain: New Poems by James Hoggard

Soon after Rain: New Poems
James Hoggard
$16, 83 pages

Soon after Rain is the new poetry collection from James Hoggard, former Poet Laureate of Texas, past-president of the Texas Institute of Letters and winner of the Lon TinkleAward. Inspired by art, travel, politics, classical mythology and weather (to name a few), Soon after Rain is large-hearted as well as large-minded. Hoggard is a prodigious and prolific talent with an intellectual curiosity who produces equally well a pastoral celebration of the benediction of rain (“Soon after rain has stopped, a silence comes when no bird sings and no wind stirs. The world seems briefly mute and sweet attention’s everywhere.”), an anguished, outraged elegy for Nineveh (“…this place had been huge when great cities were few.”) and a bemused lament over questionable land development decisions (“There are no antique shards to dig up here. The Indians dared not set their camps near here.”)

Hoggard uses several types of repetition in his work that is rhythmic and therefore frequently comforting, especially when paired with the childlike wonder at the natural world in “Touching Different Worlds”: 
There were worlds under water,
and worlds under rocks, worlds in tall grass
and worlds in the thick oak woods.

This morphs into an appreciation of humor in nature in “A Clown Show in the Sky” when a scissortail alights on a hawk in flight:
I’ve seen these scissortails ride winds in ways
that look as if they’re climbing walls,
as if they’ve rearranged the wind so they
can hang in air – they’re conjurers that like
to ride bare-backed the backs of birds like this:
the talon-beaked, cold-eyed and fang-clawed hawk.

Which contrasts with an adult’s apprehension of the possibilities inherent in spring storms in “A Terror Fills the Air”:
as clouds turn black and air becomes pale green:
a sickness in the atmosphere, a pall
of yellow haze, infection in the air.

James Hoggard
Travel evokes a sense of continuity in this poet and is a balm for the soul in “Sky Over Knossos”:
Gods had been born in the hills near there.
Daedalus had built his plane near there,
and a freak of a beast once frightened the place,
and large-breasted women danced
and, leaping, front-flipped over bulls,
and olive oil softened skin, seasoned pots,
and wine freed talk into song,
and sky and land remained mates
in ways my own world had not.

Travel fulfills its highest purpose for Hoggard – recognition of ourselves in the other. This is “The Draw of the Other” in its entirety:
I’m drawn, I know, toward what I do not know,
for foreignness has never made me what
I do not recognize – I see what is,
I see what might have been, I see what might
yet come to be, but most I see a form
of clarity that’s not till now been mine.
I hear new cries for justice, too. I hear
cries for compassion now and realize
I’ve pitched my tent most everywhere. I’ve been
where there was little left but hope, and there
I saw high bursts of mountain majesty:
a shock of craggy forms that were not mine
and likely never would be mine though they
somehow found home in me, and I in them.
I’m drawn, I know, toward what I do not know.
It’s often otherness that blesses me.

I read this collection on the best possible day – the first spring thunderstorm had passed through the night before and all was clean and the sun was warm and the breeze was cool and every bird in the vicinity was calling around my cabin in west Texas and I was immersed as senses merged with art. I cannot imagine a collection as suited for spring in Texas as Soon after Rain.