Woods Wolf Girl – Toronto Book Launch

Hoogland Reads Woods Wolf Girl

By Robert Kline,

Nicholas Hoare Bookstore, Toronto, On.
April 14, 2011

Wearing a beautiful red hooded cloak, poet Cornelia Hoogland arrived at Toronto’s Nicholas Hoare Books on a warm spring evening to launch and read from her new book, Woods Wolf Girl (Wolsak & Wynn, 2011).

A group of poetry enthusiasts sat and stood comfortably around a fireplace for Hoogland’s poetry reading. One listener even perched high on one of the store’s stepladders. Without introduction Hoogland began with the lines “this was different he was / different” and brought listeners into the world of Little Red Riding Hood as she imagined it. She read a series of poems that oriented us to the girl, the wolf, and their meeting in the woods; “the quintessential story frame,” she called it. That’s why it was so familiar; we have heard of these characters before. We have seen them before in our imaginations and on the pages of countless fairy tale books containing Little Red’s story, yet this time around indeed the experience was different for listeners, and we would begin to see the story in a new light. As her final poem in the opening series of readings suggests,

Everything’s linked.
The bend in the road has always bent –

it is she
who has just
who’s being
shaped –

And so Hoogland began to shape her version of Red for listeners with her velvet reading style. One listener closed his eyes and almost appeared to breathe the poems in this opening set.
Hoogland succeeded in capturing her audience’s imaginations and re-introduced us to the story we all thought we knew.

Hoogland followed her first set with a discussion about the Little Red Riding Hood master narrative. This story has resided in Hoogland’s imagination for years, beginning with her doctoral dissertation and continuing with her ever-growing preoccupation with all things related to the story, ranging from visual art such as the work of Kiki Smith (the book’s cover artist) to the many versions of the story Hoogland has uncovered across the world. She is at once a teacher, a scholar, and a poet, but Hoogland was clear to remind us that she crafted Woods Wolf Girl as a child understands the story, experientially, and not just as a scholar. This book is her life’s work and encompasses passion for the story, first and foremost.

In her next set of readings, Hoogland brought listeners deeper into the characters of Woods Wolf Girl. Red, Mother, Wolf, and Woodsman are characters whose multiple identities emerge throughout this book. Hoogland’s poems grant each of them voices in the story unlike any listeners have ever heard, yet these voices emerge from familiar moments in Little Red’s
story at which Hoogland’s audience members brightened with recognition. Thus, again Hoogland and her poems remind us that each person remembers or knows Little Red’s story in
his or her own way.

Hoogland closed her reading with the final poems in Woods Wolf Girl – the ones in which Red reflects back on her past experiences. The audience chuckled as they stepped a bit
further outside the woods and into such a place as the grocery store checkout where Red encounters a past lover and feels empowered by his haggard appearance. We were pulled back
into the depths of Red’s experiences as she speaks with Woodsman, making sense of the range of emotions that pervade her experiences throughout the book. We were left with Red’s final reflection as she stands at the top of a staircase after kissing her children goodnight: “this red she hears.” Hoogland’s reading has enabled audience members to hear the same red, to travel
through the depths of the woods too.

As a final treat, Hoogland put on the red hooded cloak and invited guests to partake in cocktails and book signing. Into Toronto’s warm evening, one couldn’t leave without images
from the poems, the sound of Hoogland’s voice, and a copy of Woods Wolf Girl.

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