Linda Hogan Poetry: American Poets Analysis
Linda Hogan’s development as a poet demonstrates her lifelong commitment to certain ethical and emotional themes: problems of justice and injustice, the beauty and significance of the lives of ordinary people, strong bonds of family love, and a nurturing care for the natural world. Her style moves from very tightly structured, imagistic lyrics, focused in personal expression and feeling, outward to embrace geopolitical and ideological issues. At times her concerns are less immediately personal and more philosophical in their focus. Hogan favors a poetic form involving very brief to moderate-length first-person free-verse lyrics. In her later work, her imagistic intensity has given way to more discursive expression, looser construction, and more focused impact.
Calling Myself Home
Linda Hogan’s first collection of poems, Calling Myself Home, demonstrates her considerable promise as a writer. The ambiguous title reflects the complexity of themes that the author explores: While “calling myself home” signifies a journey back to origins, it can also be taken to mean that true home can only be found within the self. Both these meanings resonate in these poems; in fact, this tension is found in much of Hogan’s work as well as her relationship with her family and ancestors.
“Landless Indians,” Hogan’s term for Chickasaw and other Oklahoma Indians, are typified by her grandparents and relatives, who lost their land to failed banks, swindlers, and periods of economic depression. Thus for Hogan and other members of her tribe, returning “home” carries with it in the act of reconnecting with the land—with home—and the painful awareness of what had once been. In response, Hogan turned to her inner resources to create a psychological and spiritual homeland capable of maintaining both individual and collective identity. She draws on her own experience in Oklahoma, the disjuncture felt by a racially mixed person living in an urban environment that is far removed from her homeland.
Calling Myself Home consists of two sections: “By the Dry Pond” and “Heritage.” The first section offers reflective meditations on an arid, materially impoverished landscape, memories displaying a reverent attention to the details of landscape, and a sense of historical connectedness to the near and the prehistoric past. Frequent mention of an ancient turtle in a now-dry pond, for example, expresses both patient endurance and survival and the image of the great tortoise, which, in many Native American mythologies, supports the world on its back. The title poem, “Calling Myself Home,” weaves these themes together, imaginatively re-creating “old women/ who lived on amber” and danced to the rattles they made of turtle shell and pebbles. The speaker draws a connection between herself, her people, and the ancient ones: “we are plodding creatures/ like the turtle.” Such affinity between people—especially women—and their land creates great strength. The generations of female forebears whom Hogan celebrates become a part of the earth’s strength. Paradoxically, the speaker ends the poem on a note of farewell, stating that she has come to say good-bye, yet the substance of the poem indicates that the speaker, like the turtle, will carry her “home” with her always.
The book’s second section focuses both on Hogan’s personal and family experiences and also on larger themes of her heritage as a Chickasaw and as a Native American woman. Its title poem, “Heritage,” alludes specifically to events Hogan described elsewhere involving her great-grandparents and other relatives: a plague of grasshoppers that destroyed her great-grandfather’s farm in Nebraska, her uncle who carved delicate wood and bone objects and passed on traditional Chickasaw lore, her silent grandfather, and the counsel and practice of her grandmother. She alludes to secret wisdom, suppressed knowledge, and the sense of “never having a home.”
Other poems celebrate metamorphosis and transformation, pervasive themes in Hogan’s work: the natural transformation in the birth of a colt in “Celebration: Birth of a Colt”; the close observation, in “The River Calls Them,” of tadpoles transforming into frogs; the speaker of “Man in the Moon” identifying with the Moon’s phases, at times emaciated and nearly invisible and at other times fat with a house that will “fill up with silver.” “Rain” describes fish both falling from the sky and being revived by the rain to feed the exuberant children—echoing “Calling Myself Home,” in which women’s bones transform into the earth’s calcified, tortoiselike skeleton.
The poems in Eclipse spiral outward from personal memory and family history to encompass wider philosophical and topical issues. Eclipse contains the poems from Daughters, I Love You and new sections of animal poems: “Landscape of Animals” and “Small Animals at Night.” Other poems are grouped in sections titled “Who Will Speak?,” “Land of Exile,” and “Morning’s Dance.”
The poems of the first section affirm the affinity and continuity of the natural world. In some poems, this affinity represents a spiritual, almost mystical union, as in...
(The entire section is 2180 words.)