By Mike Templeton
On Tuesday, December 5th at 7:00 pm, as part of the Poetry Night at Sitwell’s Series at Sitwell’s Coffee House, 324 Ludlow Ave, Cincinnati, Richard Hague will be reading from his new collection of poetry, Continued Cases, published by Dos Madres Press. It really has been an astounding year for literary urban Appalachians in greater Cincinnati. Core members and others associated with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition have published books and facilitated literary projects all year, and we will get the opportunity to round things out with a reading from Richard Hague.
We can scarcely imagine anyone writing today, either poetry or prose, who could sit down to compose without reflecting on and recording something of the past several years. Too much has happened to allow us to avoid it. But it is the rare artist or writer who can address these times and events with some degree of compassion woven into the outrage that allows us to retain our humanity amid it all. Richard Hague just such a writer and poet, and with his new collection of poems, Continued Cases from Dos Madres Press, we can reflect on the images, stories, and moods of our times—and past times—with just enough heart, anger, and erudition to be able to look back without wincing.
The poems are set up in four sections, each pertaining to a region of life that can be as specific or as broad as Hague requires. The first section called “On the Street” contains poems like “The Tranquility Trials” that operate as a diagnosis of our age. The section portrays a world in which “Anyone who walked was soon limping” and places us amid “Epidemics: sudden tooth loss, visual migraines, night-time itching.” It ain’t a pretty picture, and this is because Richard Hague is not looking at a pretty picture. Neither are we. But the poems from this section that captured my attention provided something that gives us the particular of our times and locates it in something much larger than us, something we used to just call the human condition.
Several poems in this collection refer to or allude to classical antiquity in one way or another. Hague’s poems and even his creative non-fiction pieces are often situated in the particular and the general through a variety of pathways. For example, “Xenia” reveals Odysseus lost in Over-the-Rhine. Here Odysseus is taken to be a common bum, as are the homeless in Over-the-Rhine every day, and his dignity and nobility are not recognized. And yes, he smells like alcohol and body odor; like anyone would whose life, dignity, and nobility have been denied for so long they cannot recognize it even in themselves. After the police arrive, “they roughed him up/ he blurted, I am Everyman, I am Nobody,/ so they punched him.” And that is the destiny of the hero in our world where we have seen it all and know it all well in advance. The reminder of what we have all apparently forgotten comes toward the end of the poem. The title, “Xenia,” means hospitality. It also means both stranger and guest. And here is where Hague’s poetry captures the flow of a theme within something larger and more important. The central theme of the poem, couched in the language of antiquity, reminds us of what ‘we have forgotten/ the ancient wisdom, the deeply/human way: help poor/ strangers, outlanders,/ pilgrims: offer xenia, ‘hospitality.” And this is how these poems work in one way or another. They show us that Richard Hague is not immune to the outrage, but also remains deeply attuned to the humanity we must (and occasionally do) preserve.
The final section in Current Cases is called “States Of the Arts,” and it could just as easily been called the state of the nation. These poems are mostly derived from reports of life in our country from the past several years. They are a sad and at times heartbreaking indictment of life in this country. Yet, a poem called “The Inevitability of Sand” stands out for me for several reasons. Many of the poems in this collection refer to other poems and poets. This one does not make such a reference explicit, but it is the kind of thing one might imagine Frances Ponge would write if he had been an urban Appalachian poet reflecting on the world today. Ponge wrote of stones, soap, flowers—ordinary inanimate things that took on life and central importance under his gaze and began to overshadow what we normally take to be of central importance. Hague follows this literary/philosophical tradition and tells us that all that is large and momentous inevitably ends up small, and in ending up small, it all joins everything else is in the background of just being there, being with small who mutters: “It’s just a matter of time…” “before all will be mine.” All forms of over-inflated and self-important greatness reduced what is small and where all is equal to everything else seems like a fine message—if not of hope necessarily, which can be as illusory as fear, at least a message of consolation.
Perhaps another message of consolation is the fact that 2023 has been a magnificent year of urban Appalachian literature and art. With this, we get the distinct pleasure of rounding the year out by hearing Richard Hague read from his new collection of poetry, Continued Cases (Dos Madres Press, 2023), as part of the Poetry Night at Sitwell’s Series at Sitwell’s Coffee House, 324 Ludlow Ave, Cincinnati, More information at the link below.
Information on Sitwell’s Coffee House and Poetry Night at Sitwell’s can be found at this link: https://www.facebook.com/poetryatsitwells.
Information on Dos Madres Press and to order Richard Hague’s new book can be found at this link: https://www.dosmadres.com/shop/continued-cases-by-richard-hague/.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iff Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s Cultural Directory. He lives in West Milton, Ohio with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city and the country snapping photos. She looks up at the grandeur above, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.