Everyone's a Critic
The Observer's culture blogFriday, June 12, 2015
MAKING A PRAIRIE: OUR LOCAL POET LAUREATE'S COLLECTED WORDS, by R. B. Schmerl
Don Thackrey, for many years a resident of Ann Arbor and now of Dexter, has long published his poems in some fifty or more "little" poetry magazines, justly acquiring a reputation as a gifted poet who has combined adherence to rhyme, meter, and traditional form with insight, clarity, and occasional humor. He has just published a collection of over a hundred of his poems in a beautiful book he calls Making A Prairie, complete with drawings, photographs, prose comments, and a map of his native Nebraska, showing the areas in which he grew up. The book's organization reflects the chronology of the poet's life, but the content is biofiction rather than autobiography, combining verifiable fact with the truths of fantasy and imagination.
Don, an editor, writer, and research administrator at the University of Michigan for many years, is now in the second half of his ninth decade, and thus has had time to see what life brings at its very different stages. That include serious illness, and the poet does not shrink from his description of his cancer and its effects. Readers of his generation, including this reviewer, may linger in particular over a sonnet like "Funereal Meditation":
He mourns his friends and kinfolk as they die, But, grieving, he can't help but feel relieved That sins known only by these dead will lie
In graves where they can never be retrieved
By snoops, historians, or local press.
Thus doting grandchildren, neighbors, new friends, The pastor, sheriff, councilmen ... none guess
That he is not as pure as he pretends.
He's not convinced that others also hide
A shameful past and that he's not alone
In struggling with those growing aches inside
From youthful acts that old age can't atone.
He knows the Lord forgives ... and that's a start ... But how forgive himself, the hardest part?
But this poem comes late in the book, in a section called "Harvest": first there are poems about the prairie, his family (particularly his parents), his youth, the farm and then the ranch on which he worked. That work occurred before rural electrification, motorized irrigation, and modern household conveniences. Many of these poems mingle keen observations of the natural world with astute perceptions of our own. And poetry itself, and its fashions, are also subjects of his verse, as in "Learning to Be an Edgy Poet." His introduction to this delightful little satire correctly notes that "anyone writing poetry today in traditional forms is apt to be stymied by the almost universal expectation that poetry is to be free from form and tradition." Don was not stymied in this manner, and we are the beneficiaries. But for those among us whose memories of prosody have faded, he has, most helpfully, provided an appendix elucidating the forms he has used.
Making a Prairie is privately printed but is available from the author (firstname.lastname@example.org) and local libraries in Chelsea, Dexter, and Saline. An online version is on Google at "Eleanor Suderman's Bookstore." Prices range from $39.99 for a paperback edition to $51.99 for a hardcover image wrap.
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