Poet Jane Hoogestraat writes intimate dispatches from America’s hinterlands

For years, Jane Hoogestraat avoided writing about her native state of South Dakota.

“When I talk about being from there, I’m often met with a blank stare,” she told Art Beat.

At first, she thought it was snobbery. She later realized that most Americans simply have no reference point for South Dakota — or the rest of the middle of the country.

In “Border States,” her first published collection of poetry, published in November, her native state of South Dakota and her current home of Missouri, are as front and center as their geography.

Over the years, South Dakota transformed from a place she left behind to a source of inspiration for her writing.

“I’ve also become aware that I’m going to be a little bit claustrophobic anywhere else I live,” Hoogestraat said, “because I grew up under such an open sky.”

The collection, which is organized by place, is a series of intimate dispatches. The poems often begin with the first person “I,” lending them the sense that a friend is leading you along a river road “when the fog lifts quiet laughter in the morning air,” as in the poem “River Roads”; or across the highway north of Sioux City where “the sky widens into South Dakota,” like in “At the Edge of a Time Zone.”

Listen to Jane Hoogestraat read “At the Edge of a Time Zone” from her new collection “Border States.”

At the Edge of a Time Zone
Not the midnight sun exactly, or endless summer,
just that extra hour holding steady, western
horizon stable, as though shadows won’t lengthen
when in August you can outrun the night
or feel as though you do, latitude in your favor.

North of Sioux City, the sky widens into South Dakota,
turn west and you will think you could see all the way
to Wyoming, and if you drive long enough you will,
crossing the Missouri River, the bluffs gentle,
then grasslands, the turnoffs for reservations.

As dusk approaches, you may pass a stone house,
long deserted, a star carved over the door, a small pond,
wind stirring over it even now, forming a second thought,
a space you will carry within your speech,
your soul stirred by these great expanses.

The notion of the border state applies to the people in collection as well as the setting, such as the Cistercian monks and Amish men whose lifestyle and location are on the margin lines of society.

It’s about understanding cultural geography, Hoogestraat said. “The places where people live and patterns of settlement can influence people in ways that we’re not always aware of.”

That relationship between people and place is woven throughout the collection of poetry. The locations and lifestyles may be different from the reader’s own, but Hoogestraat never plays into a narrative of exoticism. She portrays the middle of the country with elegant simplicity.

“I hope there is a fundamental optimism in the book,” she said. “I’ve tried to write a kind of poetry that doesn’t center exclusively on the self or exclusively on darker themes. That doesn’t mean it’s all sweetness and light, but I hope that the poetry is more optimistic than not.”

“At the Edge of a Time Zone” from Border States by Jane Hoogestraat. BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City. ©2014. Reprinted by permission.