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Or Consequence Paperback – April 1, 2010
Cynthia Hogue’s stunning new collection, Or Consequence, by turns bristles with spiked, jagged lines or rustles with deep emotion, in poems that range ambitiously from meditations on “freedom” in the central long poetic cycle based on an archival slave narrative to poems crossing cultural and formal boundaries. Hogue’s is an innovative poetics of inquiry and outrage, an analytic lyric striking a balance between methods of narrative and assemblage, and finally, between love and hope in the twenty-first century.
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"New Orleans Suite," the Second Section of "Or Consequence," comprises three poems based on historical events. Spiritualists once hired themselves out (with a scribe for recording the evening's disclosures in a log) for seances in hotels in New Orleans. It appears they liked to "channel" abolitionists, French philosophers, and other radical and subversive voices into the New Orlean's discourse of the times! Themes of unmarked possibility and erasure seem to be marked on the white spaces of the pages themselves. A historical figure pursues legal liberty, insists through, and vanishes. An era and a place channels the dreams of the values of the Enlightenment into America and is almost lost. A city endures levels of erasure. Moral, historical, firm, poetic ground is established; and as quickly gives way. Hogue is a poet who understands that dialectics both sharpen and blind us. She evokes the notion of "being there" and quickly follows with that of "not being there." Meanwhile, she nevers ceases to ask "Why is this here? And, what does it mean? "New Orleans Suite" is both a minute and vast range for the imagination.
France plays a role in many of the poems. In many ways, it is an emblematic place of poetic struggle for universal virtues: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. It is a place of poetic dignity. A place of poetic pilgrimage. A source that once "dreamt of" and then "opted for" change; and, as such, becomes an expression of consequences. First rate poems by a first rate poet!
It is the absent with which Hogue most intently deals in this collection, and it is the absent truth which she most determinedly addresses. Beyond that this poetry is about that which is lost, erased, and perhaps unmentioned. Nowhere is this emphasis more clear than in the second section of the collection, four poems that deal with New Orleans, its history and the devastation of Katrina. "Under Erasure (New Orleans 2005/New York 2007)" is about a search for a unique memorial to the hurricane victims (and survivors) in New York City. It starts with the protagonist coming out of the subway and being lost. Then a brief reference, which I found to be so close to the kernel of this book. "A homeless vet called out/ Did not turn at sound/ (Don't see. Don't hear.)" In the book the word vet is crossed out to emphasize the absence of the homeless.
If I have a qualm about Or Consequence it is the use of such visual techniques, which necessarily are themselves lost in the spoken poem. But is that not part of the lesson here, that language is itself such an inarticulate method of communication that there is an ongoing process of interpretation that accompanies the use of words. This failure to make room for such interpretation is what makes it so difficult to deal with bureaucracy, a difficulty presented in "The Green Card is Not Green."
But the stamp must be delivered not anywhere
in the Homeland but only at Home. Why
is never explained but "that" is repeated often:
That that that that that that that that that
that that that
that that that.
Yet it is so important that we reach a sharing of experience; and language, however imperfect and requiring of interpretation, is part of that process. In "On Bumps River" the poet juxtaposes the need for language with its inability to truly confront that which is ineffable. On the one hand we have something as simple as a child's using language to complain of the cold and the narrator complaining of going in circles; on the other we have a fish, wordless, caught in the talons osprey. "The fish is sailing out of sight/ and does not think, or move,/ and will not close its eyes."
So we humans strive to communicate, and Hogue celebrates the effort. In the end she makes us aware that this grand effort is truly worthy. She does this in a series of etudes that are distributed through the volume. Hogue starts the volume with "Etude(on Love)." "the `u' having replaced the `I'/ like a `without which Thou / I could not be'"
In the end Hogue offers us hope, especially the hope that we can overcome the gap which language leaves between us.
What we know is
hope, and say, We are
hopeful, we have hope.
Reviewed by Kenneth Weene whose new novel, Memoirs From the Asylum, can be ordered here on Amazon. [...]