Jack Ridl & Chris Dombrowski
Jack Ridl and his former student Chris Dombrowski both have new books out from the same press (Wayne State). Read side by side, it's evident that they've found a middle way: while Dombrowski shares concerns and a genre with his former teacher, his diction and line are completely different.
Ridl, professor emeritus at Hope College, was for many years one of the best-known teachers of writing in Michigan. He has won awards for it, including being named Michigan's Professor the Year in 1996 by the Carnegie Foundation. He has published poems, anthologies, and textbooks over the years. He seems to be taking good advantage of retirement by writing more poems--wonderfully direct, plainspoken poems that approach the big subjects of life but always at an oblique angle. As in earlier works, in this new book, Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, Ridl never beats his reader over the head but lets the power of the poem creep up slowly. He can be comfortably nostalgic if the poem calls for it. "Growing up in a Small Town" begins: "In the summer, the pickup / games start by nine or ten // in the park or the field / behind Mrs. Wilson's. / They go on all day." Just eight lines later the poem ends: "If it's winter, the walks are all shoveled. // If sometimes one isn't, by noon someone / will notice and clear the way, tap on the front door." It is both reassuring and ominous.