In June the Labyrinth is a book-length serial poem that is part pilgrimage, part elegy, in which the main character, Elle, embarks on a quest of sorts, investigating not only the “labyrinth” as myth and symbol, but the “labyrinth of the broken heart.”
In June the Labyrinth, Cynthia Hogue’s ninth collection of poems, is a book-length serial poem in four untitled sections, which together tell a mythic story that is part pilgrimage, part elegy. Its central trope is the figure of the labyrinth, which predates Christianity but also, strikingly, survived Christianity to be incorporated as a symbol of life into some of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. Hogue began visiting one of those cathedrals, Chartres, the summer her mother would die. She visited one afternoon when the great labyrinth of Chartres was uncovered and found herself walking it, after which she (lapsed Lutheran, failed Buddhist) lit a candle to the Black Madonna. The character of the dying woman at the heart of Labyrinth, Elle, is thus rooted in Hogue’s personal experience of loss, but as the losses multiplied over years, Elle became a composite resembling no one person but only herself. The series plays a good deal with shifting pronouns, but largely, the “I” locates this work, as it must be, in the personal lyric of love and loss.
The book as a whole travels a trans-historical and trans-geographical terrain, on a quest of sorts, investigating not only the “labyrinth” as myth and symbol, but something akin to the “labyrinth of the broken heart.” Surprisingly, the narrator discovers that at the heart of Elle’s individual story is the earnest female pilgrim’s journey, full of disappointment but also hard-won wisdom and courage, although the poems do not put it this way so directly. Rather, they distill, fracture, recompose, tell partially – literally in parts but also in loving detail – the story of a life.
“Cynthia Hogue’s In June the Labyrinth is a stunning and unforgettable book. It is a letting in of grief rather than a letting go. Hogue’s poems demonstrate how one does not recover but rather uncovers and discovers truths about the other’s being in relation to oneself. Ultimately, these truths come to rest in language itself, in the poem embodied as a form of conscious companion.”—Heather Thomas, The Florida Review
“What is happening when a book following (in every sense) a mother’s death takes the form of a postmodernist stream of consciousness, giving full weight to space and silence, to the roots and routes of language, and to the predicament of the body? The poet’s mind, as it were, breaking and entering? Today I could say I read In June the Labyrinth, or I could say I let the poem carry me downstream. The ghost of Shelley waved from the bank of the river. The world was being shattered but I was safe, thanks to Cynthia Hogue’s well-made craft, in which I rode.”—Alicia Ostriker
“Hogue has a knack for intensity. And she ingeniously describes natural processes in apt human terms – for instance, “the concentration it takes / for water to become / ice.” … Hogue’s particular wit and intensity relay not merely the appearance of art, but the experience of it, ‘its complication of what is.'”— Craig Morgan Teicher, New York Times Sunday Book Review
“Reading Cynthia Hogue’s gorgeous new book is a little like being in a labyrinth: you know where you’re going, but the turns keep surprising you and taking you places you didn’t expect. This wonderful long poem – unbroken, again like a labyrinth – is heartbreaking, but the aesthetic richness and emotional depth make it a great gift.—Martha Collins