Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 3, 2013

Fleda Brown: When poetry connects with the natural world


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---- — I've seen many deer crossing the road in the evening or feeding in the fields near our cottage, but I rarely see a buck with a big rack.

Once at the Grand Canyon, a moose with huge antlers stepped out of the trees near our car — a breathtaking moment. There's something utterly magnificent about all that headdress. I guess that's why a crown or a bishop's mitre or a top hat have been symbols of power. It's partly the height, partly the elegance of design.

Connie Wanek knows whereof she speaks when it comes to bucks. She lives in the country outside Duluth, Minn., but, she says, she often finds herself in a green tent somewhere in the Boundary Waters wilderness. In this poem, the speaker is watching the buck from her window. The ground's frozen. It's the first day of hunting season. Here comes this buck, up close. Wanek writes, "the closer you get to what you fear / the safer you are." I think about that, how true it is in so many cases. We want to keep track of the trouble.

He's clearly been a "king" among deer, considering his huge rack. The speaker speculates, "Had he been a good king? / I doubt it." Who with that rack, that power, wouldn't abuse it? But she figures he also achieved a lot through sheer intimidation.

What I like about Wanek's poetry in general is her solid connection with the natural world. You're pretty sure she's been up-close to creatures like this. And also, her way of giving us a line or two that opens up the scene to something a lot bigger. Poet Maxine Kumin says about about Wanek's poems, "They take us in and lift our neck hairs with the unexpected aptness of her metaphors." Former U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser calls them "incomparably lovely, wholly original."

The last two lines of this poem are, for me, a perfect example of her skill. How hard are facts in the middle of changing? Darn hard. No one likes to change. Change is hard. We want things to be the way they've "always" been. We have trouble changing our minds, our presidents, our laws, our vision of what American is now — I could go on and on. So this grand buck is changing: limping, his antlers rotten at the base.

Who sees this as hard, though? Not the buck, it seems. It's the speaker who says this. She's the one who calls this "hard" — the necessity to see that things change, to allow for change.

Connie Wanek has won the Willow Poetry Prize and the Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. She was named a Witter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress by United States Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. This is her third collection of poems.