NOVEL APPROACH: Country for old men

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First Posted: 7/14/2013

There are times we connect darkness to past, to anonymity, and unsettling notions of what does or does not exist therein, often measuring its nature by our ability to find the light. However, in Tom Hennen’s latest poetry collection, “Darkness Sticks to Everything,” it becomes a source of insight.

The collection begins with an introduction from novelist and poet, Jim Harrison.

The work then chronologically follows Hennen’s work from past to present in sweeping motion. Within the first few pages, it is obvious to recognize that Hennen’s work is profoundly influenced by landscape, an aspect he has richly captured in each poem.

As a former letterpress printer and wildlife technician, Hennen helped to establish the Minnesota Writers’ Publishing House in 1972. By 1974, Hennen had published his first poetry collection, “The Heron with No Business Sense.” He went on to publish five more compilations before gaining national success with his latest work.

In “Darkness Sticks to Everything,” Hennen included his poem, “Lake Minnewaska Is Turning to Slush,” from his initial collection. Its position in the beginning of the work gives way to Hennen’s overall thematic message: “Tracks lead to shore / Past an old boat punched full of holes / Toward a cabin / With kitchen lights already on. / Everyone has gone inside. / A gill net hangs from the garage wall / Dripping / Monotonous as an all-night rain. / Scaling the just-caught fish / Darkness sticks to everything.”

Most of the collection is awe-inspiring, but poems such as “Dirt Road,” “Farm on a Winter Morning,” “At Night I Dissolve,” “Light No Longer Seems a Gift,” and “Late March” are some of the most notable to connect Hennen’s past to present. There is definite maturity as the collection moves forward, and an acceptance of growing older in a country where the landscape Hennen once described has all but seemingly vanished. Fortunately, the timeline of Hennen’s poetry demonstrates a changing perspective that will forever be cemented by his words.

Hennen’s work is saturated with pastoral imagery, and while the title may give off a sense of impending doom, the collection has an outlook that is more positive than forlorn. The lyrical poems, in their simplicity, display the ponderings of time well spent in observation — taking note of our every sense — to see, to hear, to taste, to smell, and to touch. Readers complete the work understanding that one cannot simply escape darkness, only sense his or her way through it.