Hodgen Visits Wright Places

When award-winning poet John Hodgen visited the Ohio Valley last week, he enjoyed the opportunity to step into the world of a poetic hero, the late Martins Ferry native and Pulitzer Prize winner James Wright.

Hodgen appeared Tuesday at the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch With Books program to give a reading as part of the Wheeling Poetry Series.

“I’ve been blessed since arriving here yesterday (Monday),” he told the audience at Lunch With Books.

Hodgen related that he had seen Martins Ferry from the hilltop perspective of Riverview Cemetery and walked along the “beach” where Wright and his companions swam in the Ohio River.

“He (Wright) was the true poet in my life,” Hodgen commented.

The contemporary poet said he “openly wept” upon learning of Wright’s death in 1980.

“I’ve been near-emotional many times … It’s a pleasure to be here,” he told the Wheeling audience.

West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, host for the Wheeling Poetry Series, introduced Hodgen and called him “an amazing poet.”

Harshman observed that “John Hodgen is one of the best” and is the recipient of “the finest prizes you can win for poetry in America.” The poet laureate said Hodgen’s poems create “a magic that mesmerizes.”

Hodgen, who serves as writer-in-residence at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, shared the first poem that he wrote as a teenager. The poem, “For Mr. Grimes Who Tried to Teach Me Physics After My Father Died,” was published in Yankee magazine in New England, he said.

He also offered the first public reading of poems from his new book, “The Lord of Everywhere.”

These poems included “Wisdom,” a reflection on his visit to Watertown, New York, while serving in the National Guard at Fort Drum, and “Love Me Do,” in which he incorporated a number of song titles by the Beatles.

In a poem titled “Early Onset: For My Brother,” Hodgen used the word “set” in every line as he described the struggles that his sibling faces with Parkinson’s disease.

Describing how he draws inspiration from people and situations that he observes, Hodgen quipped, “If you live near a poet, you should move. You’re all fair game.”

For instance, he wrote a poem titled “American Airlines” after noticing a servicemen’s lounge located at the end of an airport terminal, next to the lost and found office. In that ironic setting, he saw a small boy playing happily. The poem concludes: “He is playing hide and seek. He is lost. He is found.”

The poet also read a poignant poem that he wrote after finding his parents’ love letters penned during World War II.

Asked about his writing practice, Hodgen said, “I don’t always write at the same time. It’s not a set thing.”

While traveling by plane, he uses the “notes” section to write poems on his cell phone. At home, he likes to work on poems while sitting in a favorite blue chair. After refining the work, he stores it on his computer.

“I used to write in the early morning when the kids were younger,” Hodgen said. He and his wife have two daughters.


Harshman said the next installment of the Wheeling Poetry Series will feature writers Kevin Rippin and Valerie Nieman. They will appear at Lunch With Books at noon on June 11.

Nieman and Rippin teach at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.


Area art lovers are seeing dots and circles in front of their eyes with the opening of a new exhibition, “The Dot Show,” at West Liberty University’s Nutting Art Gallery.

Art works in various media — all featuring dots as a thematic element — were created to celebrate the artistry and honor the memory of Bernie Peace, an art professor emeritus at West Liberty, who died on Jan. 14. During Peace’s long and prolific career as an award-winning artist, he produced several colorful paintings featuring complex patterns of dots.

“The Dot Show,” free and open to the public for viewing, continues through Thursday.

Meanwhile, a celebration of Peace’s life is planned for May 18 at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net.


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