2009, aka the Four Hundredth Anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage, is a thing of the past – but if Brooklyn born Bob Cooperman has anything to say about it, people will take not of the English explorer’s story in a new way in 2010.
Cooperman, a long term Colorado resident who has devoted a good deal of his authorship to being a dramatic monologist, tackles the denouement of Henry Hudson’s series of voyages – contemplating the explorer’s fourth and final voyage, which ends with his being set adrift by mutineers in harsh arctic seas.
The author of such dramatic monologues in poetry form as The Trial of Mary McCormick, (Slipstreams, 1990), In the Colorado Gold Fever Mountains, (Western Reflections Books, 1999) Winner Colorado Book Award 2000, and A Killing Fever (Ghost Road Press), 2006.
Cooperman has scored a palpable hit with his new collection, A Dream of The Northwest Passage (March Street Press, 2009) which he debuted at the Salmagundi Club in Manhattan this year.
Cooperman, "a Brooklyn boy, right down to a B.A. at Brooklyn College," moved to Denver in 1974, to study in the joint Literature-Creative Writing Program, and received a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and a field of specialization in 19th Century British Literature. He has taught English at the University of Georgia and Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.
Robert Cooperman's poetry lives in two worlds: the Brooklyn of his Jewish upbringing and the fantasy worlds he inhabits in most of his collections. He's equally at home in the Colorado Territory, the Middle Ages, Ireland during the time of British oppression, as he is in the shenanigans and devilment he got up to as a boy on Brooklyn's less than mean streets.
In this book, Cooperman returns to the dramatic monologue form, spinning a tale of the explorer Henry Hudson’s fourth, and final, futile voyage to try to find a sea passage to spice rich Asia.
Hudson’s starving crew spent a winter in unspeakably harsh Arctic conditions and upon the brink of starvation, mutinied. Hudson, his son, and a few ailing and loyal crew members were set adrift in the ship’s boat in what is now Hudson Bay.
There, history reports, they vanished from the annals of human endeavor. In Cooperman’s fictionalized account, however, something else happens – he asks the question outright -- but what if they made landfall?
As Cooperman paints it, survival turns out to be even worse than a relatively quick death from exposure to the brutal Arctic elements. One by one Hudson’s men succumb to freezing weather, despair, sickness, and hunger.
However, there is also some redemption. In the book’s narrative, an Inuit outcast is dumped on the island as well. And in him, Hudson sees salvation and a way to finally find the Northwest Passage, as the two set off in a kayak of their making for one last voyage, either into the pages of explorer immortality or into the vast white out death of eternity.
As critic Clarinda Harriss notes, in the 56 poems which constitute the book Cooperman’s characters become “powerfully believable. His characters’ voices … (are) sturdy yet fluid, tough yet dignified, and its imagery bespeaks a powerful poetic imagination capable of lighting up a dimmed past.”
We agree. Cooperman has accomplished an unusual feat in modern poetry – he’s created an exciting narrative adventure out of a series of linked free-verse. As Harriss puts it, “To those who diss contemporary narrative poetry: Abandon your prejudice, all ye who enter.”