by Adam Vines
Louisiana State University Press, 2022
Review by Ken Autrey
In his third book, Adam Vines, who teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has fashioned a collection making skilled use of traditional forms, such as the sonnet, triolet, and pantoum, but also nonce forms following various meters and rhyme schemes. Those structural elements mark a distinct change from his previous volume, Out of Speech, a series of ekphrastic poems that often unfold in couplets or tercets.
The poet’s passion for fishing is in full evidence here. The title poem, “Lures,” evokes not only jitterbugs, jelly worms, and other enticements for fish but also the metaphorical lure of the past, an elegiac longing for a pond now replaced by a baseball diamond and for an old fishing buddy, now gone. The poet is lured, too, by memories of his father as a fisherman, an insurance man, and an accomplished mason. His hard-drinking uncle is another character from the past who figures in several poems, such as “Tithing Beers.” In “River Elegy,” a poem written “in memory of the late Jake Adam York,” another Alabama poet, Vines imagines an encounter in which they go to the Black Warrior River to fish, camp, and talk.
Vines’ sense of loss applies not only to these people but also to old locations, such as his grandfather’s cabin in “Coursing the Joints” or the remembered fishing shacks in “No Wake Zone.”
In counterpoint to these visions of the past is the poet’s hopeful depiction of his young daughter Mary in several poems. In “This Little Piggy,” baby Mary discovers her feet, and he accepts the fact that one day she will grow into an awareness that “her feet/ conform to her will, her heart,/ and she will walk away from me.”
“Prayer for the New Acolyte,” a series of rhymed couplets, imagines his daughter lighting the candle and sitting through the service. Then, he prays she’ll have the “strength to snuff the flame and still believe.” Other poems document questions she asks in the innocence of youth and his struggles to answer them. Poems such as “Remains” show an awareness of the poet between generations, positioned between father and son, showing characteristics of each.
Throughout this volume, we are never far from water—its essential attraction, sustenance, and mystery. Often a river, lake, or gulf is the setting for remembered camaraderie or insight; such is the case with “Our Boat,” an elegy for his friend Scott Harris. The couplet poem “Anti-Aubade” provides complex musings on the natural world, with its terrible beauty and power. The poet and his partner or lover strip down and immerse themselves in water as though devolving back into the ancient creatures from which we all came.
Vines’ exhilarating language, whether in the service of a particular form or not, suffuses these poems, seeming to capture the exuberance of the wide world itself. Here, for example, one stanza from “River Elegy” is a fragment filled with alliteration and multiple sound echoes:
so when we would have run
and re-livered that trotline by the skinny moon,
we’d have fire close when we skulled
back to the bank. Then over a skillet
of skeeting yellow cat fillets,
. . . .
Such lushness typifies the sound qualities through much of the book.
The initial poem, “Maintenance for the Heartbroken,” and the final one, “Preservation for the Heartbroken,” frame this collection. Both seem to address a wife or lover in mid-life and sensitively evoke the challenges, as well as the modest triumphs that accrue as we navigate the uncertain waters of our lives.
Adam Vines, as editor of Birmingham Poetry Review, has maintained its quality as one of the finest journals in the country. For that, and certainly for his own consistently powerful poetry, we must all be grateful.
Ken Autrey’s work has appeared in Chattahoochee Review, Cimarron Review, Poetry Northwest, Southern Poetry Review, Texas Review, and many other journals. He has published three chapbooks, the most recent of which, Penelope in Repose, won the 2021 Helen Kay Chapbook Contest. Emeritus Professor of English at Francis Marion University, Autrey lives in Auburn, Alabama, where he helps coordinate the Third Thursday Poetry Series.