Thursday, April 8, 2021

Laura Reece Hogan’s “Exodus” is #276 in the never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM

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***Laura Reece Hogan’s “Exodus” is #276 in the never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?
This poem first sparked when I received a text message from my friend who had recently lost her husband to cancer. She wrote that she was “empty and lonely” without him. Those words just ripped through me, calling up those life losses we all experience. Over the next several weeks I found myself ruminating about death and the separation inherent in different types of loss. A tension in the question of separation kept coming back to me—in the experience of loss, what are we separated from, and what are we not separated from? (Above Right: The Osiria Rose in Laura Reece Hogan's garden.  Credit and Copyright by Laura Reece Hogan.)

I have a particular variety of roses in my garden, called Osiria roses, which bloom with deep red outer petals encircling white inner petals. I love these roses for their own spectacular beauty, but also because they remind me that vivid life and love embrace the lonelier, more stripped-away parts of life. 

In fact, I suspect these roses were named in connection with Osiris, the Egyptian god of death, because of his mythic ability to be in a state of death and yet also somehow a state of life when his wife Isis finds him and conceives a child with him. My roses were blossoming, and they became for me a visual expression of these thoughts about life and death, separation and union even after death. (Above Left:  Osiris) 

Also, around this time I recognized that my poetry manuscript-in-progress was speaking about varying forms of flight, and I wanted to compose a poem about flight in the sense of a fleeing or departure for the unknown, as in the Exodus flight out of Egypt. The image of my Osiria roses started pairing for me with the parting of the Red Sea.

By the time I went to the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference that summer, I had written an early draft of this poem, and I rewrote it during the workshop, which was very helpful. (Right:  Isis) 

In late August and September I revised the poem, and by October I had a completed draft, which I submitted to the Santa Fe Literary Review for their “Spaces Between” theme—perfect for the subject and the split form I had chosen for the poem. 

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. The first parts of the poem were written in my garden. 

I live in Southern California and my little garden is home to bougainvillea, gardenias, hydrangeas, sugar maples, a lemon tree and a lime tree, and my daughter’s pots of succulents and sunflowers. Cottontails live in the bushes and come out to nibble grass in the early evening. Coyotes and a blue fox have passed through. 

In the spring one tiny bunch of miniature daffodils always magically appears, and sometimes in April or May we see migrating painted lady butterflies. There is one hibiscus that somehow blossoms purple, and one jacaranda tree. But my favorite is the roses. I love visiting the different rose bushes to see what is budding, what is fading, and what the bees are doing. (Right and Below Left: Flowers from Laura Reece Hogan's garden.  Credit and Copyright by Laura Reece Hogan)

What month and year did you start writing this poem?  My first thoughts about the poem began on May 28, 2019, when I received that text from my friend. My first written notes and an early draft came in June, and I had a final draft by October of 2019. (Below Right: Laura Reece Hogan in her garden.  Copyright by Laura Reece Hogan)

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)  I usually write notes or a first draft by hand, and then I move it into a Word document and work from there. This poem’s initial handwritten version was very rough, but already the split form and key ideas were present. I went through at least fourteen drafts. (Below Left: Laura Reece Hogan's rough drafts.  Credit and Copyright by Laura Reece Hogan)

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us? The original title of the poem was “The Waters Saw You,” from a line of the poem, but also a direct reference to Psalm 77:17, in which the waters of the Red Sea see God and convulse. In the end I preferred “Exodus,” because to me that more effectively captured the different forms of flight or separation that poem was addressing.

The final line of the poem also changed. I knew I wanted those words to contain the opening rose, the parting sea, and the idea that separation might also contain life-giving newness. The line originally ended with “petal wide in your hands,” but that was a place-holder phrase. It became “split and start the bloom.”


What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I hope the poem evokes passages of both coming and going, birth and death, love and separation, and the mysterious truth that we are part of an organic world that is constantly changing and finding a way to be new all over again. As human beings we inevitably experience pain and separation, but we also heal and have such a capacity for new beginnings. And ultimately, we follow along a current or trajectory of life that we don’t always control, yet it is possible to see it as a passage of trusting what lies beyond us, a love which may part us in all the senses explored in the poem, but also guides and catalyzes new ways of being.


Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? For me this poem has two chords of emotional resonance, just as the roses are both red and white, just as the form of the poem is split. So perhaps it will come as no surprise that two parts of the poem were emotional to write. “The parting of the waves       a vise-cracking of the heart/ ribs open to the sky” felt raw to write because I was drawing on all those terrible experiences of personal loss. But I was perhaps even more deeply moved to write “undertow pulling me beyond       reach, through your tangled deep/ navigation belonging only       to my belonging to you” because the speaker here is expressing a profound trust in love and what is beyond her control and knowing.


Has this poem been published before?  And if so where? This poem was published in Santa Fe Literary Review, Volume 15, 2020, and also appears in my collection Litany of Flights (Paraclete Press, 2020). 

Laura Reece Hogan
is the author of the poetry collection Litany of Flights (Paraclete Press, 2020), which won the 2020 Paraclete Poetry Prize, the poetry chapbook O Garden-Dweller (Finishing Line Press, 2017), and the spiritual theology book I Live, No Longer I: Paul's Spirituality of Suffering, Transformation, and Joy (Wipf & Stock, 2017), which examines the spirituality of Paul the apostle. She is one of ten poets featured in the anthology In a Strange Land (Cascade Books, 2019).

I Live, No Longer I won four First Place 2018 Catholic Press Association Book Awards in the categories of Spirituality, Hardcover; Spirituality, Softcover; Theology; and Scripture, Popular Studies. I Live, No Longer I also was awarded the gold medal for Spirituality in the 2018 Illumination Book Awards, and won the category of Religion: Christianity in the 2017 American Book Fest Best Book Awards. O Garden-Dweller won 2nd Place in the category of Poetry in the 2018 Catholic Press Association Book Awards.

Her poems can be found in or are forthcoming in America, First Things, Lily Poetry Review, Whale Road Review, a Diode Editions anthology, Dappled Things, River Heron Review, Mantis, Cumberland River Review, LETTERS Journal, The Cresset, EcoTheo Review, Relief: A Journal of Art and Faith, The Christian Century, Spiritus, U.S. Catholic, Anglican Theological Review, Poets Reading the News, The Windhover, Santa Fe Literary Review, Saint Katherine Review, Trinity House Review, Amethyst, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, Riddled with Arrows, Poems for Ephesians, The Penwood Review, Faith Hope and Fiction, PILGRIM: A Journal of Catholic Experience, NonBinary Review, Plum Tree Tavern, the anthology Solo Novo 7/8: Psalms of Cinder & Silt (Solo Press, 2019), and other publications.

Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize. Her essays have been featured in Spirituality and Ekstasis Magazine. Laura has spoken on a range of topics including Paul’s spirituality, the Christological hymns, the paradox of the cross, Carmelite spirituality, and spirituality and creative writing.

Laura earned a B.A. from Rice University in Houston, Texas, a J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, and an M.A. in theology from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California. She is a professed Third Order Carmelite. She lives in Southern California with her family. 

All of the Backstory of the Poem LIVE LINKS can be found at the VERY END of the below feature: 

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