Black Hills Survival Gathering, 1980 Analysis

Linda Hogan

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The setting for this poem is the Black Hills of South Dakota, specifically at the places where enormous holes drilled into the earth house missile silos. The sites contain nuclear warheads that are capable of traveling thousands of miles and destroying large cities. The occasion is an encampment of people protesting the existence and potential use of these weapons; the poem describes an early morning scene, as the people awaken and begin the day’s activities.

In the first stanza, the reader sees Buddhist monks, familiar at peace and antinuclear demonstrations, in their orange-colored, togalike robes, outlined against the rising sun. The next two stanzas depict other people beginning to awaken, as bombers fly overhead. While the encampment stirs and comes to life, more people arrive on the dusty roads.

The speaker then turns, in the fourth stanza, from the panoramic view of the whole camp to speak of her family: her husband and two daughters, who are participating in the event with her. She describes her husband bathing their small daughter in a pail of water, then in the next stanza turns to the other daughter combing her hair. The speaker says that she makes coffee, and while doing so tells her daughter that they are camped in the land of the daughter’s ancestors. She wonders about her daughter’s reaction to this knowledge. The sixth stanza turns again to a slightly more distanced view, as the speaker places her family with respect to...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Like almost all Linda Hogan’s poems, “Black Hills Survival Gathering, 1980” is written in first-person free verse. The poet alludes directly and deliberately to her family, referring to her husband and daughters by name, and she reinforces the identification between the author of the poem and the voice or speaker within it. The poem proceeds by way of direct description, with very few examples of rhetorical devices such as simile or extended metaphor. One exception is the comparison of the mare seen on a distant hill, which looks like “one burned/ over Hiroshima.” This practice of using plain language and straightforward description is in keeping with Hogan’s philosophy of writing, which stresses the accessibility of her poetry to ordinary people; as she stated in an interview with Bo Scholer, which was published in The Journal of Ethnic Studies (1988), “I don’t want my work to be something you can only read if you have gone to a university.”

While the description in “Black Hills Survival Gathering, 1980” is unadorned by rhetorical figures, it is highly impressionistic. That is, the reader is constantly drawn to the appearance of things, to the way in which things strike the speaker’s eye, and things are often described as if the way they appear is the way they are. In the opening of the poem, for example, the sight of the monks looking as if they are touched by the sun’s fire is described in words that state that their...

(The entire section is 445 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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Hogan, Linda. “’A Heart Made Out of Crickets’: An Interview with Linda Hogan.” Interview by Bo Schöler. Journal of Ethnic Studies 16 (Spring, 1988): 107-117.