I am reading The Never-Ending, by Andrew Hudgins, because it fell into my hands at Babbitt's, and I snapped it up, having read individual poems by Hudgins all over the place in journals and at important poetry websites, and having heard him read at an AWP Conference in Chicago one year. There was something so humble and yet elevated and intense about him when he read his few poems--it was a group reading--and I had this feeling I get that is like (mentioned here before) Joan Didion's daughter saying, "I need to talk to her," about Georgia O'Keeffe.
The cover is a gorgeous painting called "Bultman's Garden" by Michael Mazur, and I have not reproduced it here in case there's a copyright thing, as for some reason the cover does not appear readily at Amazon or Goodreads, but it's there if you click the link to Amazon Marketplace sellers. And the book is not much mentioned at the important poetry websites, so was it shunned, or something? It deals with Christ, civil rights in the South, and gardens, among many other things. Click on "Praying Drunk" for a fine, wild ride!
Anyway, one coincidence I love is that Hudgins teaches at Ohio State University, in Columbus, where I have friends and family, so if I am ever brave enough maybe I can call him up sometime when I am visiting. Or maybe my niece will meet him at Writing Camp. My dad got his masters at OSU. My sister teaches at Otterbein, where she loves the English department and likes to talk to poetry people. It could happen. Maybe someday I will have red wine with Andrew Hudgins and can ask him about praying drunk.
A poem called "The Garden Changes" ends with the line "and red, red, red, red, red," something I understand perfectly from the changes in my own being and my own garden and from my summer of red, red, red, red, red, reading Rumi and keeping a red-beaded journal with a gold-beaded heart on it. (I have a poem called "Red Nasturtium" from this summer, that tries to compress the intensity of Rumi's spiritual red in 3 1/2 lines, for a reason.)
So I was pondering the difficulty of being "a religious poet," whether indeed that causes some people to step aside, to shy away. Hudgins is a serious, professional poet, just as Flannery O'Connor was a serious writer of fiction, her work fully informed by her Catholicism but also functioning as fiction on fiction's own terms, rippling out in meaning in the minds of readers thanks to what is provided in the story itself.
There is nothing easy, sentimental, or one-sided about Hudgins's poems. They are as intellectually challenging and humanly gripping as any other powerful poems I've read that don't dwell on a religion-specific set of images and topics. The only time I felt perhaps directly admonished to be his kind of Christian, was, appropriately, in "Crucifixion," about a cross burning in Montgomery, Alabama. The poem ends with a challenge issued as a question, to keep it open: "Or does God simply choose us all?"
Certainly the poem made me feel that I ought to do more for social justice, but I guess, open as I am, I returned to my own questions and open definitions of "God." The poem didn't let me off the hook, in terms of human choice and human action, but it did leave things open, ultimately.
In fact, in the center of the poem, the speaker confesses his own doubt:
I would have said he died for us, our sins,
but I no longer know who Jesus is.
He's someone walking through his life--or hers--
until God whispers, It's you. And God's ignored.
In the context of the poem, the one who "died for us" is not only Jesus, but a boy in the previous stanza who "shotgunned himself." So the It's you just keeps resonating.
And now I should mention the coincidence of a painting I love called Now You of a naked Jesus pointing his long, long arm to his left, my right, at someone outside the frame, who was of course, also me. I saw it years ago at the Aldo Castillo Gallery, where my husband was also showing his work, so I send you there, even though I don't find that painting there.... Maybe it has found its home!
And I love how The Never-Ending opens with Socrates, who never wrote anything down, saying, "If anyone asks you 'what that is, of which the inherence makes the body hot,' you will reply not heat (this is what I call the safe and stupid answer), but fire, a far superior answer." What translation is that? I don't recall Plato/Socrates using the word "stupid," but it's fun to stumble on it in Hudgins.
And I love the poem "Bewilderments of the Eye" and its epigraph by Plato:
The bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or going into the light.
And how this, and the poem itself, remind me of Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--
And now this never-ending blog entry is.....