These oceanic meditations on the vicissitudes of existence—love, transience, the relentless immortality of recurrence—are piercing, hypnotic, and deeply moving.
In a poem from Thresholds entitled “Walls,” we find this line: “a rooster crows in someone’s childhood—though I am the one who remembers.” And so it goes, poem after marvelous poem: these memories Hoyt Rogers offers, slightly aslant, at once ineffably here and here, intimate and replete, erudite and yet thrumming with—as another poet he sometimes calls to mind, D. Nurkse, has it—“the blade of the actual.” Rogers has crafted a book of paradox and mystery unlike any other I have encountered in quite a few years, each page—each line—a doorway into a world oddly familiar and utterly new.
Written by a witness within the poet himself, these sometimes autobiographical sequences, with no usual logical chronology, offer us an intimacy with which his captivating and precise language fills us up. The highly personal relationship of Hoyt Rogers with the natural world, with man-made objects, and all the unknown worlds around us, brings us closer to ourselves. In these poems, we never feel his reminiscences result from the usual sentimental longing for what was or what could have been. Rather, each is an image named and brought back to life by the poet, who never shows a reluctance to be any age he wishes to recall. As if every single thing has lived for the word that’s about to name it. Stretched beyond any limits of space and time, we glimpse what’s been salvaged from a past before his time, in the image of “a warped plow, a tumbledown shed, a roofless hearth…” We’re even allowed to celebrate the present with him where most emphatically “…love skips down the road, a torn-up page.” And though the future necessarily includes death and its almost imperceptible “senescence,” Rogers never stops assuring us—“as if time were not indifferent”—how along the way we may find ourselves ready for some unexpected and always inexplicable renewal.
He spoke of revelation, of an ordeal that was over.
This is the map, the writing on the wall.
Prose poems polarise. They either get the best of both worlds or the worst of both worlds. Under the sign of Char and Bonnefoy (and Rimbaud), great French poets in verse and prose, Hoyt Rogers, a superb translator of Yves Bonnefoy, has gone to school with his (necessarily) French mentors, and emerged as a master of the prose/verse/prose poetry sequence in his own right. With this magnificent book, Rogers has come of age as a significant writer. As in Bonnefoy’s Douve, there is an evident back story or sub-text, whose shards generate the beautiful condensed prose, indeed the shards are what we read. Leaving aside the handful of mellow and lyrical verse poems, the prose poems sometimes threaten to morph into verse, but they rightly desist, in order to contain the rhetorical temptation of over-heated eloquence. On the other hand, Rogers always resists the tropes and rhythms of fiction, when the story occasionally appears to be heading there.
We are not frustrated by the apparently untold story because the prose narrative, as offered to us, speaks its own truth with commanding logic and enforces submission to its demands on our minds and hearts. There is a remarkable dream of death; there is direct story—the incident of the young man in the Arctic; and there is aphorism, notably “Every silence will also be a language” and “History: the landslide of our illusions.” There are also allusions to Hölderlin and others in the European tradition so important to this American poet, who is an inveterate traveller in the music, art and poetry of the Old World. But above all there is prose poetry at its best, instinct with psychic pressure, prose poetry which has been carved or moulded no doubt from large blocks of prose, leaving us on edge as we ponder this major contribution to American literature. He has returned from Europe and enriched the language of poets like Oppen, Lowell, and Michael Heller, who would all salute him.
Hoyt Rogers stands before several thresholds in this intricately constructed book of verse poetry and poetic prose. He must come to terms with his childhood (“the boy I refused to be keeps haunting me”) and with fleeting yet unforgettable figures from his upbringing in the South. And as he reflects on himself back then (“Who was I? An acquaintance I barely knew”) and on this American past which has taken on that characteristic strangeness for one who has long gone elsewhere, notably to Caribbean climes and often to Europe, Rogers weaves in narratives of lost love, meditations on death (including that of a sister), as well as—for this translator of Yves Bonnefoy, André du Bouchet, and Jorge Luis Borges—his questioning of the very potency of words to “salvage—not the earth or even ourselves—but the remnants of our hope, the radiance of unsealed stones.” In rich language full of precise imagery, he benevolently recalls those who have crossed his path, and pays close attention to whatever guidance might emanate from the natural world. Thresholds chronicles an ongoing quest for what it means to “have a life.” “It can never be deserved or explained away,” Rogers writes. “It is here, more intractably than any thread of meaning, any spark of clarity.”