I found my way into this book when I read this line:
The popping gravel.
Five boys are driving around town in a car in the poem titled “The Dogs in West Duluth Bark Sometimes Until the Sun Lifts the Dark Sky’s Skirt.” The image immediately sent me back 35 years to New Hampshire. Driving with my buddies down a dirt road. The sound of the tires and the gravel. Taking out our folding chairs and bags of chips and cokes and rifles once we got to the giant wall of garbage at the landfill. We’d sit and talk until there was a rustling up in the filth. Then, we’d decide whose turn it was to shoot. Killing dump rats. Small town entertainment. I could imagine being in that car.
The poems in To Keep Him Hidden (Salmon Poetry, 2018) by Ryan Vine are bleak and powerful. He uses a couple of interesting tactics. Several poems include a character named Ward. I wondered who he was, because he was struggling. The book also has a thread of 25 “rules.” I didn’t fully understand these two ways of shaping the book until I later listened to Episode 7 of the Lake Superior Writers podcast. (Subscribe. Feel smarter.)
Since I couldn’t figure it out on my own, I’ll quote Vine as saying this about Ward in that episode: “I used him to investigate my own experiences and emotions.” Like writing in the third person about a character in a short story or novel, maybe it allowed him to get distance and perspective on some tough subjects. And as for the rules in the book, Vine said they are “a survival guide for those obsessed with self-destruction.”
In “Best Man Ward,” Ward’s drunk on a beach and:
the waves pushing and pushing
the fallen pillar of the moon
up through his feet out
through his mouth
I don’t know why, but this poem and many others remind me of my 20’s when I was making some bad choices and desperately lonely. That’s why these lines from “Rule 12” hit so hard. (I also really dig the enjambment of “perfectly” here.) The 25-year old in me said an amen:
If you missed that message, friend
well then you should just give up.
If you’re angry, know you’re angry
not because of what happened
but because you can’t articulate it
perfectly. If you’re happy, man, shit.
Fuck you. I’m not talking to you.
You follow a hard path reading Vine’s poems. Then, toward the end of the book, you start to get glimmers of something, not quite hope. Like Sisyphus who is doomed to forever roll the rock up the mountain over and over again, Vine writes about finding value in the struggle. Like Camus wrote about Sisyphus, you have to imagine him happy rolling that rock. In “Ollie Impossible” Vine describes how this hard path might yet yield something useful when he describes trying a tough trick on a skateboard:
…None of us
could stick it, but we kept trying.
It was a good practice for all
the impossible things we’d go on to do
like marriage murder suicide raising children
spending years in prison or at a job
we fucking hated…
Maybe it’s because this book walks a tough road for so long, but when I read “Rule 23,” it felt exactly like when I first met my wife. I thought the poem was about love. This is a good book (that you should get) and this is my favorite poem, more so because of the hot coals you walk over first to earn hope:
Friend, I hear there’s a hole
on the tops of our heads
that only one person who
finally comes along can see
and drops a kiss like a lamp
down into it so that we glow
like dummies as they look
into our faces like they’re
looking out a window at
Lake Superior or the sea
and find by that light
like you would by moonlight
the tiny islands we live on
just offshore and us waving.