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The Warrior Poet

National Poetry Month comes to an end today. While others may have begun National Poetry Month with great fanfare, I would like to end it with same--my fan fare for a great poet, teacher, and friend, James Hoggard.

James Hoggard is the author of sixteen books, including six collections of translations, three of them of collections of poems by Oscar Hahn (b. 1938, Chile). The winner of numerous awards, including an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship and the Soeurette Diehl Fraser Award for Literary Translation, he has published six collections of poems, as well as two collections of stories, a novel, and a volume of nonfiction. He is the Perkins-Prothro Distinguished Professor of English at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. His work has appeared in Harvard Review, Massachusetts Review, Ohio Review, Southwest Review, Partisan Review, Translation Quarterly, and numerous other journals and anthologies.

That's one official bio, but it leaves out the factor of context, or in this case, con-TEXt, the TEX standing for Texas. Texas is not the only place in the world where one has to be tough, no matter what other skills or gifts one has to offer, but it is the tough place I know best. It's the place where I was called a witch in third grade because I could speak French, the place where boyhood and young manhood are most often measured in football feats, and where tight jeans are "a woman's best friend." Although times have changed, and although there has always been a strong intellectual streak to Texas (despite what some Yankees say), those of us who did our growing up here a few decades ago carry "life on the frontier" memories inside us still. We remember having to both hide and fight for our creative sensibilites. And I think this had something to do with the young James Hoggard knowing early in life that his destiny was to be not just a writer, not settle for reportage and journalism, but to become a warrior poet. He learned to protect and to stand up for that powerful and vulnerable state essential to life: creativity.

"When I was young, I used to go to school early to get there in time for the fights," he says now with a laugh and a spark in his eye. He's kept in "fighting form" during adulthood through many sporting activities, including running marathons and cycling in the Hotter 'n' Hell Hundred bike ride. He has also maintained his poetic form through the years, working constantly at his craft, honing it, and taking his poems' taut lines into deeper and deeper places. At the end of the post are links to various of Jim's poems and translations. Here is one of his poems written in response to Edward Hopper's last oil painting, "Two Comedians" in the "voice" of the painter:

(Edward Hopper on his 1965 oil, his last painting)

Perhaps it's the costume
that lets me laugh,
or smile as it were --

for me they've been the same

Perhaps it's the clown's disguise
that lets me be
looser than I usually am
strutting cock-proud now,
goofy-eyed at a crowd,
the illusion of a crowd
no one sees but you and me

Clowns, we move toward stage's edge,
a place I've made like a roof's edge,
with threat or promise of a fall

But the moment seems sweet,
our domestic wars almost done,

and white-clad and foolscapped,
we seem blest as we press
toward the last edge we'll meet,

our lyrical selves always in France,
our final days just bibelots:
Nous sommes, Jo et moi, les pierrots

But one does not become a warrior poet by creativity alone. Hoggard traveled to Iraq when the first Gulf War was about to brew, going as scholar and journalist. He returned from that trip impressed with the Iraqi people, their intelligence and spirit. He watches the war in Iraq closely now and adds his unique voice to the chorus of those who know how wrong this last war has been, and how much more wrong it becomes with each day. Here is one of Jim's poems on Iraq.
Read carefully . . . especially the part about silence.

The Chinese Bridge
across the Tigris in Mosul, Iraq

The Chinese built the bridge, and one
of them, legend says, is buried beneath it
He was down in a hole adjusting a form
to set a pillar in when someone tripped
a switch and a load of quick-drying cement
poured down like God’s wrath on him

Some say, however, such never happened
No one reports hearing moans near there
at night when lost ghosts cry, and no one
going through the eucalyptus forest nearby
reports seeing will-o-the-wisp flares,
the hearts of sad souls catching fire

Maybe so, that may be, the agreeable say:

Perhaps the body’s not there, never was
But it is, others insist, it is there,
and the absence of sign is proof,
for the absence of an outcry after death
is the surest sign of the fact of death.

In 2000, Jim was named Poet Laureate for the State of Texas. From tough guy on the school ground to one tough, tried-and-true poet for the stubborn state that was once its own nation. Yet more proof that poetry really does have punch.

Follow the links for more:
Hopper Poems
Pecan Grove Press
Wearing the River
Riding the Wind & Other Tales
Poetry Translations

Top image, copyright 2007 Ysabel de la Rosa

Poetry, copyright James Hoggard


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