Yesterday, I heard the belated news that poet and teacher Jane Hoogestraat died in September. It was difficult, in part because I had heard no word that her health had declined. She was only 56. After hearing the news, I spent much of my evening thinking about the important role Dr. Jane played in my life and in the lives of her students and readers.
Dr. Jane was my graduate thesis adviser at Missouri State, and the two years I spent under her mentorship taught me about the importance of humility and gentleness in poetry as well as the classroom. She loved landscape--a fact that made us kindred spirits--and she often used her close description of Midwestern locales as a device to reflect on internal struggles with gratitude, melancholy, love, religion, and history. While she spoke warmly of the Ozark region where she lived--as she did of many landscapes she wrote about--she also explored how beauty can be "haunted by how much can be hidden," as she says in her poem "Among the Cistercians."
Over the past several years, Dr. Jane finally received much deserved acknowledgement for her poetry. She won the Finishing Line Open Competition in 2009, as well as placed poems with excellent journals like The Southern Review and Slant. Her crowning achievement was the publication of the excellent full length collection, Border States, which won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and was published this past winter. Border States was decades in the making, and it is masterful expression of Dr. Jane's aesthetic and kind world view.
Despite her successes in recent years, Dr. Jane remained humble and encouraging to those around her. When my chapbook, Stopping on the Old Highway, was published in 2009, she sent me a lovely and encouraging note about the book. She was always interested in my writing and career, checking in a couple times each year to inquire about my whereabouts. I'm sure she was equally generous with the other students she mentored because she was always generous.
While I am saddened at the loss of Dr. Jane, I am pleased to at least know she was able to get so much of her poetry out into the world before her passing, and the strength of that work will endure. In many ways, it's just like Dr. Jane to slip away quickly and quietly without many of her students noticing; she was always reserved, private, and gracious--even in her passing. People like Jane Hoogestraat rarely come along, and I will always be grateful she was part of my life.
For more about Jane Hoogestraat's poetry:
Mini Poetry Review: Jane Hoogestraat's Border States
Chap Chat: Jane Hoogestraat's Winnowing Out Our Souls
PBS News Hour Profile
New Letters Interview with Dr. Jane
"The Gifts that Strangers Bring"--a poem by Dr. Jane