Cynthia Hogue is an award-winning poet, critic, and translator now living in Tucson.
Described in the New York Times as having “a knack for intensity,” Cynthia Hogue has published twenty books of poetry, translations, and criticism, including such volumes from Red Hen Press as Revenance and In June the Labyrinth. She is co-author of When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina (interview-poems with photographs by Rebecca Ross), named a Notable Book by Poetry International. Revenance was listed as one of the 2014 “Standout” books by the Academy of American Poets. Hogue’s honors include two NEA Fellowships and the H.D. Fellowship at Yale. She lives in Tucson.
instead, it is dark
Publication Date: April 4, 2023
Following her husband’s massive heart attack, Cynthia Hogue began writing poems based on dreams and memories that he, born during WWII in occupied France, had as a child growing up in a time of vast postwar food shortages. Hogue embarked on a quest to discover if there were more such memories in her extended family in France. When asked, family members told her never-before-shared tales of parents who were POWs, collaborators, Resistance fighters, and one most vulnerable—of a hidden child. Hogue spent years researching the lives of civilians during war, work crystallized in her tenth collection of poetry, instead, it is dark. The personal is alchemized as Hogue weaves history and present day in poems that explore how there, here, an individual voice in the stark language of lyric poetry, speaks a complex truth and casts a laser light on violence, resilience, survival, and—the heart of this collection—love.
How do other people’s memories come to live in our bodies, how do they travel by means of language, from one human body to another, across time and miles, painful miles? I ask this question out of sorrow, yes, but also in wonder, upon reading Cynthia Hogue’s beautiful, transformative instead, it is dark, a book not of tales or dreams or historical accounts but of memories that survive us, that have already survived us, as they’ve entered the lyric. Open this book on almost any page and you will see not just World War II history, or its aftermath, but also what such histories do to our minds. You will hear not just the hum of time, but its stranger mysteries. Yes, there is a child forgotten upstairs in the burning building, yes, there is a dream of an underground town, yes, there is a man who survives a heart attack in the twenty-first century and right there in the emergency room asks his wife, the poet, to write down his dreams of what happened. In this world of tragedy, it is tenderness that gives us a chance, it is a whisper that surprises and awakes. Which is to say: Cynthia Hogue has written a beautiful spell of a book, one that investigates the real, yes, but also opens the door into the mysterium of time.
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa and Deaf Republic
instead, it is dark opens with voices that bear witness to traumas suffered in occupied France during World War II. In poems utterly specific yet free of the constrictions of monologue, Hogue pierces to the bone of experience. Her lyric mastery, coupled with deep empathy and insight, transforms violence into song, compelling and fundamental. Her forms and cadences, including elliptical leaps and silences, alter in response to the pressures of intense feeling. The range of these poems reminds us that war’s consequences don’t end with peace treaties, and that the catastrophe of violence alive in our time includes the silencing and degradation of the powerless. Dark indeed––at times ferocious––yet a radiance emanates from these poems that I find unforgettable. This is an extraordinary and important book.
––Joan Larkin, author of My Body: New and Selected Poems
In June the Labyrinth
Publication Date: April 18, 2017
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
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
By turns elegiac, ecopoetic, and impolitic, Cynthia Hogue’s eighth collection, Revenance, is a condensery of empathic encounters with others and otherness. Hogue coins a word—from revenant, French for ghost—to consider questions of life and afterlife, and to characterize the ways in which the people and places we love return to us, and return us to ourselves, holding us to account. The poems of Revenance contain telling touchstone figures, like a guide named Blake who, noting signs of global warming, will speak of spirits but not angels; a man who dies and is brought back to life by the imaginative power of love; and a woman who can speak the language of endangered trees. While writing these poems, Hogue journeyed often across country to her familial roots in upstate New York in order to help care for her dying father. At last she began to record some of the many stories she heard of mysterious encounters and visitations, such as she herself was soon to witness, over several intensive years. Although grief silvers the threads of these poems, Hogue pares away the personal in order to be present to others in a fiercely engaged and innovative poetry.
Praise for Revenance
“The pitch of language can isolate image almost against memory, but as an instrument of its music. This is done across Hogue’s new collection, Revenance, with an almost abstract, muralistic importance. I do love these poems—here is the balance of both color and flower naming the rose.”—Norman Dubie
“In her splendid eighth collection of poems, Cynthia Hogue looks deep and listens hard, finding the ‘In / Visible’ in the visible, straining to hear ‘something, and more.’ Whether she’s inhabiting landscape or exploring art, Hogue seeks what eludes us, whether in depth or evanescence. Absence looms, in our impoverished and polluted earth, in the scraps of a lost interview, in the foreshadowed elegies that close the book; but the poet’s deft use of language and form allow both what is and what is no more to be ‘bodied forth, returning like a revenant: not whole, but changed.'”—Martha Collins
Publication Date: April 1, 2010
The poems in Cynthia Hogue’s collection, Or Consequence, range from meditations on “freedom” to poems crossing cultural and formal boundaries. The first and third sections introduce a series of informal etudes, which contemplate timeless aspects of human experience (love, power, memory, trust, war and peace). Such subjects are brought to bear on language as excavation and reclamation in Hogue’s central section, a discrete series entitled “Under Erasure/ Ars Cora,” after the last slave, Cora Arsene, to use the courts to sue for freedom on the eve of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. In the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hogue’s poem cycle meditates on traces: traces of a lost life, of a presence that has been erased, part of the palimpsest that is post-Katrina New Orleans (a city in which Hogue once lived). In the case of Cora Arsene, Hogue finds such a trace lying unnoticed, forgotten, but sign of a dynamic, courageous presence that persists. These poems invoke this presence in classic lyric strategy, but not to reembody the lost but to follow the trace’s thread from the real to the sublime. Hogue’s is an innovative poetics of inquiry, an analytic lyric striking a balance between method and music, collage and image, and finally, between violence and that other ancient human capacity, love.
Publication Date: January 1, 2006
Physical and emotional pain, internal scarring, and explorations of social illness color the poems of this collection with hauntingly honest accounts, simultaneously filling readers with both a sense of hope and of surrender.