Chap Chat: Jane Hoogestraat's Winnowing Out Our Souls

Jane Hoogestraat's Winnowing Out Our Souls (Foothills 2007) holds a special place for me, first because the poet was my mentor and second because the book captures her gentle aesthetic so well. The collection has a strong sense of place, namely Springfield, Missouri, but her reverence for the Midwest resonates with anyone who has experienced the quiet life in small cities and towns across America; we can observe her praise of such under-recognized places in poems like the lovely "Background Music." What best characterizes the collection, though, is not merely how it teases out the details of Hoogestraat's home, but also how it imbues those details with a spiritual wonder, like we see in the title poem:

I've mowed the gladiolas down, trimmed the barberry
watered the yew.  I still don't teach Sexton or Plath, 
make jokes about poetry and gin, or laugh  

with those who do.  I know that tulips can be cold 
but I've not seen them black.  The walls in my house 
are white, the wood is polished, the glass dusted.
 
The season waits, still warm, though turning toward 
the mild winter of the middle south.  Not much.
The trees are in their autumn beauty, the cedar mulch  

is dry.  The neighbors have one pink flamingo, thank God 
not nineteen, they keep having to retrieve
from other lawns.  North across industrial yards  

are white temple churches in a neighborhood Falwell 
once called home, school to his heart I'm sure of now.
Driving back across his city this Sunday morning  

I've proved what I needed to, remembering again the 
haunting lines, not often sung in the Republic's Battle Hymn:
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel,  

as ye deal with my condemners so with you my grace shall deal. 
We will be a while in this town winnowing out our souls.

There is a generosity of spirit in these poems, and that kindness towards other people is what makes Winnowing Out Our Souls such a charming book.

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