Linda Hogan

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Linda Hogan Poetry: American Poets Analysis

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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...

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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.

Eclipse

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 “Landscape of Animals.” The poem “Ruins” wonderfully evokes the atmosphere of vanished life within ruins of ancient peoples of the American Southwest, while “Oil” reminds the reader of the fragility of the natural world: “The earth is wounded/ and will not heal.” The poems of “Small Animals at Night” and “Land of Exile” center on the theme of continuity and on the interdependence that the speaker asserts connects herself, all human life, and the lives of animals.

Daughters, I Love You

In this collection, Hogan addresses the threat of nuclear holocaust as well as historical and imminent guilt, fear, and danger. Although most of the poems allude to the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of World War II, one poem, “Black Hills Survival Gathering, 1980,” focuses on an accident at an atomic reactor in Idaho, and one poem grew directly out of Hogan’s experiences at a peace encampment protesting the presence of nuclear weapons near the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. Although the poems can be labeled “protests,” the stronger unifying theme of Daughters, I Love You is its underlying spiritual message: Hogan sees that the most significant response she can make to answer the threats of power and poison is “a prayer that enters a house” to protect “the sleeping men and the gentle work/ of women.”

The section “Who Will Speak?” explores the history of Native American peoples in the United States. “A Place for the Eagle” evokes a sense of the ancient oral traditions, showing creation as the joint work of animal and spirit shapers. In “Stone Dwellers,” the speaker gazes at a museum display of historic and prehistoric artifacts, reconstructing the vanished life of the people on the earth. “Houses” re-creates family history, exploring the cruel injustice caused by the removal of the five southern nations from their homelands to the Oklahoma Indian Territory.

Seeing Through the Sun

Seeing Through the Sun groups its poems into four sections: “Seeing Through the Sun,” “Territory of Night,” “Daughters Sleeping,” and “Wall Songs.” The third section echoes and continues themes opened in the earlier Daughters, I Love You but focuses on a more personal vision of motherhood, moving at times into myth. “Tiva’s Tapestry: La Llorona” evokes the Mexican legend of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, said to walk neighborhoods at dusk, weeping for her children, whom she has killed, and seeking to kidnap replacements. The speaker talks of the sewing or embroidering of a picture that suggests the tragic mother: “She comes dragging/ the dark river/ a ghost on fire” who transforms into a cosmic figure “on the awful tapestry of sky/ just one of the mothers/ among the downward circling stars.”

“Bees in Transit: Osage County” reflects themes addressed in Hogan’s novel Mean Spirit, which depicted life in Oklahoma during the 1920’s, when a number of Native American holders of oil rights were murdered under suspicious circumstances. Thorough investigations were not undertaken, and the killers were not brought to justice. The Osage murders, as they were called, were but an extreme manifestation of pervasive bigotry and oppression. A major theme of Mean Spirit, the suffering of women in those circumstances, emerges in “Bees in Transit: Osage County”:

    dark women, murdered for oil    . . . still walk in numbers    through smoky dusk.

The poem combines Hogan’s feeling for history with a spiritual outlook that has emerged more explicitly in Seeing Through the Sun and later works.

Hogan’s range and subject matter expands in Seeing Through the Sun. “Death, Etc.” offers a brittle, tightly rendered dialogue full of witty ambiguity: The speaker characterizes Death as a “Latin lover” who calls her Señorita and invites her to dance; she responds to his erotic advances by admonishing that “I am a taxpayer,/ I tell him,/ you can’t do that to me.” Other poems in the section titled “Territory of Night” move toward more outspoken erotic themes. A few of these, such as “Linden Tree,” are tightly constructed, almost like the haiku in their compression.

Savings

In Savings, Hogan expands on the themes raised in her earlier poetry and fiction in poems that are often more discursive in style than the tightly formulated images of Calling Myself Home. Many of these later poems are longer, and there is some experimentation with form, as in the loose unrhymed couplets of “The New Apartment: Minneapolis.”

Hogan’s thematic preoccupations move from the sense of hardship endured and overcome in her personal, family, and tribal history to wider consideration of global issues of justice, care, and responsibility. Her characteristic method of building from image to image is sometimes attached to a more abstract idea: In “The Legal System,” an ambiguous voice suggests that the person’s internalized “legal system” reflects and predicts both individual and collective judgments and prejudices.

In Savings, Hogan’s poems move out from Chickasaw history and the Oklahoma landscape to more global contemporary injustices, including the abuse of women, alcoholism, class hostility, the Holocaust, political refugees, undocumented immigrants, poverty, and bigotry. These poems differ from the focused topicality of those in Daughters, I Love You. The strategy of the earlier collection wove related images around a central theme; for example, in “Black Hills Survival Gathering, 1980,” the image and feeling of sunrise is connected to Hiroshima, to a Buddhist monk protesting nuclear war and a bomber flying overhead. In contrast, Savings is often both more discursive and more allusive. In “The Other Voices,” the speaker attempts to come to terms with an overpowering evil by contrasting unspecified refugees fleeing a police state with the commonplace, unthreatening lives of domestic animals.

The Book of Medicines

Hogan powerfully invokes the elemental forces in The Book of Medicines, expressing the affinity she feels with animals, plants, and weather. These natural forms serve as her totem: “power symbols offered as a source of healing . . . for the world . . . and for humans . . . as a means to reconnect with and show reverence for all things.” The perspective is strongly Native American, contrasting vividly with the wasteful, rapacious attitude toward nature expressed by the European American exploitation of nature and natural resources.

In these poems, women are strongly allied with the “natural” force of the universe—like animals and plants, more firmly connected with and attuned to the world’s natural rhythmic cycles and more viciously assaulted by forces now run amok, squeezing the life out of nature in the name of profit and progress. Hogan’s poem “Fat” exemplifies greed out of control, describing a whaling town where “we sleep/ on a bed of secret fat,” the debris of dead whales. Yet this is also a place where the speaker still hears the voice of Mother Earth, the whale, and the spirits:

      I hear it singing      . . . it is a mountain rising      . . . I want light.      I am full      with greed.      Give to me      light.

In this cosmology, the feminine principle as well as the more balanced and respectful attitudes of the Native American worldview hold out the greatest promise for a return to a more healthy natural equilibrium.

More assertively than in her earlier books, Hogan focuses on the natural world, examining and decrying the damage humans have done to the planet and to each other. Hogan’s has become a powerful voice in the ecofeminist movement. The poems are presented in two sections: The first, “The Hunger,” paints troubling pictures of human life and nature; “The Book of Medicines,” offers a prescription for healing. The world of the first section is bleak, unsettling, and wasted: a place where “War was the perfect disguise” and “When [men] met a spirit in the forest/ it thought they were bags of misfortune/ and walked away/ without taking their lives” (“Skin”). In contrast, the second section describes growth, renewal and rebirth. As the poet notes in “The Origins of Corn,” this world has become somewhere:

   you can’t stop trading gifts with the land,   putting your love in the ground   so that after the long sleep of seeds   all things will grow   and the plants who climb into this world   will find it green and alive.

With The Book of Medicines, Hogan has become a true visionary and healer.

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