Vine River Hermitage
F. Daniel Rzicznek
36 pp., Cooper Dillon Books
If any of you are familiar with Dan Rzicznek’s book, Neck of the World, you can expect to see a deeper, more personal meditation with Vine River Hermitage, but if you are not, then this slim book is a fine place to be introduced to his work. For disclosure I will tell you I have long been a great admirer of Dan’s poetry. It was him I turned to when I needed a final crucible for my own book, and as such you are entitled to know before you proceed with this review. However, I hope you will see things the other way around. The reason I went to Dan and asked him to read my manuscript was because of his immense talent. If my reading of Vine River Hermitage was the only thing I knew of Dan’s work, I would be saying much the same as I am now.
When I first walked into this book, I was immediately struck with the singular expression of solitude. Not any ordinary loneliness, but one built with care and complete awareness. The narrator of these poems has chosen a solitary existence and renews this conscious decision with every step, image, and breath. Something else, too. I may be off when I say this, but I cannot help but to recall the story of Justin Vernon, hiding himself away for nine months and recording the Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago. As I read these poems, I became more certain Dan was presenting something very similar, presents his narrator escaping something immense for the safety of an almost Walden like existence in order to compose something necessary, something vital.
In this book, the seasons, beginning with Spring, are set forth as cornerstones to the other poems. Where the set structure of each of these poems (4 ten line stanzas which remind me of some hybrid of the glossa) might get lost in a larger collection, in this chapbook is heightened, signaling a quiet, collective meditation.
At every turn, the narrator speaks of a need to heal himself, make himself whole again. In the second poem of the book, “Springline,” the narrator speaks to an unknown reader, evoking the tone of an aubade and invoking the feminine. Rzicznek ends the poem with a haunting final image best left for you to discover. In the next poem, “Kingbird,” Rzicznek’s narrator admits something has failed. Throughout the poems, lines such as these strike definite chords:
My royalty couldn’t command a cattail
to bow to the breeze, couldn’t muster
a rabbit from a flooding rabbit hole.
. . .
Between us, the ruins of my empire
. . .
Sorrow for me was a half-fancied
legend before today, as if the dawn had
a mote in its eye and it was her.
. . .
Throughout the book, Rzicznek pays homage to the natural world. In “Great Barrier Reef” he creates a division between the natural world of his hermitage and the city from which he finds escape. The poem begins:
The first royal thing: moss growing
In the sidewalk’s lunar cracks.
The big doors open when pressed.
later in the poem:
a city block of wreckage the news
drags through a sunlit morning
toward ragged oblivion and back.
Dan Rzicznek is a master of the line and the line break. Each line feels solid, pure, an event of its very own, and his breaks are so natural one can’t help but be propelled through every poem. He has certainly done his work with this book. I read somewhere some of what Rzicznek said about this particular book. He stated the poems are thematically and structurally diverse, and span a great amount of time. I do not feel that when I read them together. This book is certainly more than the sum of its parts and I would like to believe the synergy ( I hope that is not a bad word to use in conjunction with poetry) one experiences with Vine River Hermitage is a matter of craft and not coincidence.
I would offer to you this parting thought: The time spent with this book has the potential to serve as a break from your everyday life. It can be a sabbatical for you without you being forced to leave the comfort of your home. Better still, however, these poems might inspire you to reconnect with the natural world, inspire you to create your own hermitage, and return to your world knowing a little more about yourself for making that experience.