Good collections of poetry seem as rare as collections of poetry are abundant. I don't expect to find them, though I'm always looking. It’s a relief to be surprised by something new and worthwhile. You can get in a dismissive habit, then turn into someone else. This week the winning book from last year’s May Swenson Poetry Award Series arrived in our post office box (no home delivery in Idyllwild, so we unlock P.O. Box 270 every day, a shadowy chamber through which you can see the fluorescent mail-sorting room. Those big tables.), and this slim volume tumbled out. It's Neck of the World, by F. Daniel Rzicznek, and was chosen by Alice Quinn, published by the Utah State University Press. The book was in danger of traveling straight from envelope to the windowledge of the post office, where people sometimes leave things they don’t want but would be ashamed to throw away. But a few lines caught my attention, and the book held it through the afternoon. The experience was like discovering an old book by a current favorite, except this is Rzicznek’s first book, and he’s younger than me, so this is what we have. I hope there’s more to come. The book has captivated me. Everything’s here! A rich language, a commanding style, a vulnerable tone, ideas that develop, and hardy verbs. Let me try again, because that sounds dry and dull and competent: a wilderness seen through the most recent binoculars. There are echoes of other poets here, James Wright and Wallace Stevens and Philip Larkin in particular, but they echo through most contemporary poetry. In these quiet lines and orderly stanzas there's something new and daring, yet encouragingly familiar. Jonathan Holden writes about William Stafford's gift to "not embarass the reader with his genius," and there's a bit of that courteous genius here. Oh, I’ll just put a few stanzas here so you can judge for yourself:
from “A Mouthful of Crickets”
The cavern purges its hollow ice,
a quivering tonsil. Sickles of tar
scan every river of the lips
and it’s this thousandth elsewhere,
these well-to-do’s, dear. Close up.
Something gleams when you speak.
from "A Bear and His Madness"
There’s a burnished violence
ignorant in the leaves,
gilded to the hillside where I sit.
The land has begun holding me
trial for the murder of a sapling
tall as my smallest finger, its leaves
two spots of fire beneath my boot.
The air whirs a mouth foreign
like the speech of far-off bells
in the dark borough of my ear…