Book Review: Darkness Sticks To Everything

Darkness Sticks To Everything:  Collected And New Poems, by Tom Hennen

I must admit I did not know anything about this Midwestern poet before picking up this book of poetry by random, but I have to say I found him a relatable poet even if I was not fond of all of the techniques and styles he wrote in (more on that below).  Ultimately, this poet’s work resembled another I like a lot (that of William Stafford [1]) enough and the poet’s presentation of himself as a narrator is self-effacing and modest enough that it was easy to like the poet and easy to appreciate his approach to poetry despite my unfamiliarity with him beforehand.  When one is dealing with poetry, it is of vital importance to get the voice of the poet and to come to terms with their perspective, and it is easy to praise a talented but diffident poet who has struggled to be accepted, while it is immensely difficult to enjoy a poet of modest to nonexistent talent who is nonetheless arrogant and abrasive.  In this case, the poet presents himself as someone I can understand all too well, someone from a farming background who has a deep and critical eye for rural life and who has struggled with making his writing pay and with intimacy with others, and that made for a much more pleasant reading experience.

The poems themselves are a best-of anthology that comes with a lot of supplementary material both before and after the poetry by such people as Jim Harrison (a poet I know nothing about) and Thomas R. Smith (who I also know nothing about except his appreciation of the poet’s work in a concluding essay).  Most readers will probably be at least mildly exasperated by the praise heaped on the poet and will want to get to the poems themselves, which are a better reflection of Hennen’s work than the encomiums that surround it.  The poems included are divided by where they come from in sequential order, from the author’s first work “The Heron With No Business Sense” (1974), to later works like “The Hole In The Landscape Is Real” (1976), Looking Into The Weather (1983), Selected Poems 1963-1983 (1983), Love For Other Things (1993), Crawling Out The Window (1997), and newer poems since then.  Like many poets, the author has consistent themes that he discusses, including his struggles to communicate with or relate to others and his love and fondness for ugly animals, as well as with his struggles in finding a job or his childhood in a farming family.  There is a marked tendency in his poetry after 1997 to be prose poetry that is less enjoyable than his earlier work, but even here the poems are one or more paragraphs of material that reads like the textual version of an impressionistic painting of rural Midwestern life, and there is enjoyment to be found there.

At the end of the day, it is the author’s winsome personality that carries through in these poems collected over the span of more than 40 years of writing.  One gets a sense of the poet as a plain-speaking and plain-looking fellow from a modest background who struggles to say what he feels but is nonetheless a person of deep sensitivity with somewhat wounded dignity, yet it is expressed with dry humor rather than self-pity.  I know people like this poet, and I may even be a great deal like this poet myself in my own writing.  And therefore although I did not know anything about this poet before reading this book, I must say that if I see the poet’s other books available for reading I will definitely take them up to read, for they are likely to be short but also enjoyable volumes filled with a worthwhile perspective of a writer who it would be all too easy to ignore given the lack of attention that poetry receives in the greater writing world.  But rather than cursing the darkness, I will do my best to light a candle of appreciation for the writings of an obscure poet but one who did good work in bringing the perspective of the Midwest to the larger audience of poetry readers.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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