By: Jeff Hardin
Reviewed By: Mark Dawson
Story Line Press, 2005
Jeff Hardin’s Fall Sanctuary was chosen by Mark Jarman as the seventeenth winner of the Nicholas Roerich Prize. The poems are deeply informed both by Hardin’s Christian faith and by a lifelong, meditational relationship with nature.
In Hardin’s first poem, “In Fear and Trembling,” joy is a choice, and each hour a potential “threshold,” not as a retreat from the realities of suffering and malice, but as a pursuit of what is persistent and mysterious in human nature. The fact that language itself allows communication between individuals is “…surely evidence / of compassion that exists outside ourselves.” Were the poem to stop here, this might be deemed a devotional book, but Hardin pushes further: “Or do we just prefer this fallen world… / …and guard ourselves and know that we are alone.”
Closely observed natural surroundings provide both backdrop and backstop for his meditations. These are landscapes he has lived with, not simply visited. In “Genealogy,” he stands near a shack, where “a century ago, when a man and a woman lying down at night / could hear, despite the crickets, the stillness of the other.” The speaker too belongs to these structures, which in turn belong to nature and “the careful years that do their best but lose us.” In “Lately Enough to Matter,” a grandmother thinks of trees as friends “she’s decided she will miss in the next life” (emphasis added). As in Frost’s poems, Hardin’s natural world is a participant, very nearly at times a speaker.
Hardin’s voice is consistently gentle, and often self-deprecating—perhaps too often for some readers, but these poems don’t settle for easy epiphanies; there are plenty of surprising turns. Hardin writes under the watchful eye of the greats. One poem is dedicated to Lorca. Hyphenated constructions remind one of Hopkins: the prophet Moses is “Heston-bearded”; the poet is “pious-purged” and “mercy-flushed.” I hear an occasional echo of W. H. Auden: “Word comes today along the lengths of rain / and through the shiver-spray of hedge-rows…” (from “Summons”).
Hardin’s voice is his own, and his well-crafted free verse marries meditation with the music of natural speech. This is a mature first book.
Mark Dawson, a former editor of the Black Warrior Review, was a finalist in Measure’s 2006 sonnet contest.