In this brief book, the 91-year-old Jim Hiner packs in literary references (such as “Byzantium” and “darling buds of May”) that attest to a formal education in canonical English poetry.
In several of his poems he begins a stanza with familiar references, as in the first poem “The Back of My Calling Card” which has a section that plays with William Carlos Williams’ iconic poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” and then moves into a more directly metaphysical stance, “So / much deepends [sic] me / from / wade to wallow / a mode much than / of / Performance: / what is all of / why.” In this section Hiner shows his facility with pun, if “deepends” is not a typo but a way to make putting something into the deep end of a body of water into a verb, as well as a visual play on the “depends” from Williams’s poem. He also uses alliteration (“wade” and wallow”; “mode” and “much”) as well as the more subtle use of slant rhyme of “wade” and “mode.”
The metaphysical tone and a gentle commentary on the absurdity of human “getting and spending…late and soon” (Ã la Wordsworth) characterize a lot of the poems, such as in “Poem for an Afternoon” which uses kinesthetic, spatial, and sonic imagery, “Dance round before rescue / Place what you will / Where you have it / At frequencies no / None of those / That will behold.”
Occasionally the poems or lines lean toward the pedantic and nebulous (therefore less interesting), as in the second half of “La Valse” in which the narrator describes “them” and “Their unprovoked contradiction of all / That law’s embarrassments hold true; / And forgive above all their own deeply held / Conviction of immortality.”
The poems in Rowing to Rhodesia don’t necessarily take a lot of risks but they show a clear-eyed attention to the harmartia (tragic flaw) of intrinsic human frailty.
Also available in hardcover.