“Or Consequence” Cynthia Hogue
Red Hen, 2010, 978-1-59709-476-4, $18.95
Or Consequence is the sixth collection of poems from Cynthia Hogue. Hogue is informed not only by experience and history, but also by theory and academic discourse. Hogue is a poet drawn to the cerebral and the abstract. That is NOT to say that Hogue is not masterful with images or is a didactic poet; nor does she deny the hunger for communion that sex can only briefly assuage. Okay, the linguistic terrain is a bit tricky. But fortunately, she is a poet of extreme precision and no histrionics.
In Or Consequence, there are Études (short studies) on love, power, karma, listening, trust and memory. The poetics ply less the trade of deep image and are more interested in pushing the envelope of ontological thought. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped or related within a hierarchy. Hogue — with other poets who share this interest — has a penchant for the words language, mind, desire, and memory.
In this frame, the imagination seeks (and often struggles) through/with language to resolve contradictions. Vulnerabilities are often expressed and the imagination seeks shelter in the larger landscape of the “Not-I.” And ultimately, it desires to establish contact and meaningful exchange with the world and the perceived inhabitance of that world: communion. There is something fundamentally erotic in the enterprise. (There is something fundamentally erotic in the enterprise of writing a poem—perhaps in the enterprise of writing altogether.) Hogue never digresses. The stakes of her poems are too high (and too disciplined) to allow for digression.
Or Consequence is divided into three sections. The first cuts to the chase in establishing the means will be philosophical – but the subject will be love. The pursuit itself will have something to do with the measure of change:
…without a clear
aim in mind in
fact the mind feeling not clear
as if at the bottom of a lily-
pond, not the blue and
white nénuphars Monet painted going blind
but the mucky bottom with long green stems
in nubilous, light-flecked water.
Do we all go through
this floating from time
to time when the self cannot see
the self so close in its need
to control, which is the urge
to have nothing
change? This desire
surfaces with various
(“Étude (On Love)”)
When Hogue uses an image, it is clear and pointed. She is painfully aware of the universal charges firing helter-skelter in the world. She often uses enjambment as a creative device to keep the poems from settling:
there’s no recourse with large
righteousness on the horizon,
giant tomatoes tall as houses.
we can see the ripe though dust-covered
disagreements rolling across the desert
about to quash everything-
the sun, mountains, world
disappearing beneath them.
Who can say no to such mayhem?
(“To Be Of”)
And in “Étude (On Power)” one can picture any structure of power: the walls of the “ivory tower,” the masculine world, the demands of a language:
and hear, I will decide what’s best for you
(one I , many you’s)/
This I’s behind walls, bricked-up. Looking out.
…You think: There’s peace here
if I say nothing
“New Orleans Suite,” the second section of Or Consequence, comprises three poems based on historical events. 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 channel 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 never 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.
The third section continues explorations of linguistic and ontological domains. The poems in this third section continue to explore personal and historical consequences — and change. There is a poem for a “Green Card” beloved. In a poem taking place on a walk through the Loire Valley, the speaker is suspended between a glance back and a glance forward:
Gold filigree wears off the markers of my fingers trace.
The names on the wall and the flat courtyard stones,
the graves on which I walk. I draw close
the shawl of rain, the hand catching mine cold so
cold I turn.
(“Étude (on Memory)”)
Even not having the language of the place keeps Hogue in existential suspension. But the certitudes of life are much like the castle and war sites one visits, “to which all come but none stay.” Trust and hope may seem like little to ease some; but in Hogue’s pantheon of virtues, they are – they must be — enough to sustain her on her travels. The conveyance of real intimacy is in their balance:
voice rustling the curtains of
your eyes closing and you now
unmoving. Looking out.
I thought to say, Come out of it, come
to your senses, where
are you come back?
Your true colors—
that azure (as you’re)—bleeding
through was hard
to miss. But let’s talk for the moment about
how to convey that sense
(you’d almost forgotten) is no stranger
(“Behind the Curve”)
Scott Hightower is a poet living with one foot in New York City, one in Texas, and one in Madrid. His third collection, Part of the Bargain, received the 2004 Hayden Carruth Award. His translations from Spanish have garnered him a Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. He teaches at NYU, and has taught poetry, non-fiction, and translation at Drew, F.I.T., Fordham, and Poets House.