fields and a fallen fence row
a man down drunk in the ditch line
winding its way toward the river that wound north, northeast,
then north again.
I found him there that night when I was six
and sent to bring him back.
Just kick him, they said,
and he'll come back to life. But I couldn't.
Instead, I threw rocks. Who
are you, I whispered, then pelted him again.
you love what's brief and bound for the trash heap,
old Galaxy 500s with the gas pedal stuck,
windows left down
so the rainwater pools in the floorboards and sours?
Or the spider dipped down on its luminous silk
die in a closed-up book,
as each of us will, finito and gone and put along the shelf.
Life's been hard and a hand-me-down thing at best
and one more bark-peeled, whittled-down stob staked
to make a bean row.
And a down-in-the-back pain in the neck to boot for good measure.
But back to the ditch line, back to the arc of a night long gone,
an old man wheezing
and stumbling to feet on a dead-end road-
Who are you, I say, and why have you risen after all these years?
I'd hoped for an evening
of listening toward stars in the heavens,
that old game that never quite ends, but I see that stripped-clean look on
notched up a bit and downright ornery and ready to raise hell,
stunned at what the night has thrown him,
hard as a rock in the gut.
From a Day of Falling Snow
From a day of falling snow, we find the sky again.
The trees have never been more still, their branches
to every trembling inch
of bearing white.
I think it takes forever for the soul to find its edge.
Housebound, we might as well be nonexistent.
Into each other's faces we peer, new strangers.
and stalls midair, returns,
as though it, too, had some remembering.
Days like this have the feel of memorial.
Someone squandered a fortune, and now the roads
are all but impassable,
the woodsline turned inward.
Even the young
are grieving their headlong, dwindling days.
lot seems unnecessary given an hour alone.
Imagine no one ever saying an excess word.
For every falling flake,
another tomorrow has arrived.
For every thousand poems or so, only one more added breath.
Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews
Jeff Hardin was born in Savannah, TN, (Hardin
county), an eighth generation descendant of the county's founder. He is a graduate of Austin Peay State University
(B.S. in English) and the University of Alabama (M.F.A. in Poetry). He is the author of two chapbooks, Deep in
the Shallows (GreenTower Press, 2002) and The Slow Hill Out (Pudding House, 2003) as well as two collections
of poetry: Fall Sanctuary, recipient of the Nicholas Roerich Prize from Story Line Press, and Notes for
a Praise Book, recently selected by Toi Derricotte and published by Jacar Press. Nearly 500 of his poems
have appeared in such journals as The Southern Review, North American Review, Ploughshares,
The New Republic, The Hudson Review, The Gettysburg Review, Southwest Review,
Poetry Northwest, Hotel Amerika, Meridian, Tar River Poetry, The Florida Review,
Southern Poetry Review, Poem, Zone 3, and many others. His poems have been nominated for
the Pushcart Prize multiple times and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The
Writer's Almanac. He is professor of English at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, TN.
Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews
A Review of Jeff Hardin's Notes for a Praise Book
by Maria Browning, first published by Chapter 16
Poets from Osip Mandelstam to Edward Hirsch have observed that a poem is like a message in a bottle, a kind of
personal missive from the poet to the unknown reader. Certainly the poems that resonate most strongly are often those that
clearly have the flavor of messages, with the writer speaking confidingly to his audience, expressing emotions and impressions
readers can recognize within themselves.
Many of the
poems in Jeff Hardin's "Notes for a Praise Book" have just this intimate quality, with Hardin's strong, individual
voice using imagery - usually drawn from rural life and the natural world - to convey philosophical and spiritual insights.
References to the Earth - soil, plants, animals, landscape, weather, the
changing seasons - abound in Hardin's poems. He has a knack for shaping phrases that capture the ordinary, fleeting impressions
nature delivers, as well as the moments of beauty that usually go uncelebrated. In "Little Ditty for the Coming Days,"
he writes of the "mist-light and tatters / of early morning," and in "Seed Heads Bursting in Gold Light"
he notes how "one tree rests its dying toward another."
Hardin, who teaches at Columbia State Community College in Maury County, Tenn., is rarely interested in conveying
these images for their own sake, nor does he use them, in the manner of Robinson Jeffers, to illustrate the small and wayward
character of humanity. More in the Wordsworthian vein, Hardin looks to nature for comfort and revelation. He has a habit
of leaping from image to insight, but these leaps are always sure; the connection between immediate experience and abstract
thought makes intuitive sense, as in "From a Day of Falling Snow":
From a day of falling snow we find the sky again.
have never been more still, their branches
to every trembling inch of bearing white.
I think it takes forever for the soul to find its
The condition of the soul, as the title of the
collection suggests, is a chief concern in these poems. Hardin has a relentlessly spiritual sensibility, and most of his
work displays a humble mysticism. For him, holiness surrounds us. In "Seeing and Hearing," perception itself becomes
Whatever else we call
the dandelion fluff sailing
in its own time down the passageways of wind
we might as well agree
its motion makes a hymn.
Reconciling the pure and redemptive pull of the spirit with the mess and noise of modern life is a problem confronted
repeatedly in these poems. The title poem - which is perhaps the best in this very solid collection - rephrases this dilemma
in each of its eight segments. "I don't have to tell anyone who's watched thistle seed / scatter in wind / that we,
too, long to leap from ourselves" he writes in "Notes for a Praise Book," acknowledging the universal human
desire for some kind of transcendence. And though he nods periodically to poetry as the soul's helpmeet, in this poem,"
he concedes its limitations:
Oh what will become of us who worry over words,
their shades and implications, when the outer
trumps the inner
and every soul's a billboard?
Limited though they may be, words are the tool Hardin has at hand, and
he puts them to brilliant use. In the poem's final section, he takes words as metaphor for spirit and in the same lines
works a variation on the message in a bottle.
I say we pick some sprigs and plant them in a book
to happen onto later.
In some far year we can't imagine.
By people we might be then, happier,
with a kindness inside us
we can't explain exactly or find the end of.
Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews
An Interview with Jeff Hardin by Andrew
Talk to us about the dropped lines in "A Short Short Life of Long Evenings" and in your work in general. I'm a
big fan of them visually, but I'm not always sure what they do for a poem, how they operate. I typically treat a dropped
line like half a line break; there's a very brief pause as they eye drops down to read, but it's not quite as extensive
as the pause that occurs when the eye stops at the end of a standard line break.
Jeff Hardin: A lot has been written about lines-theories of the line, the role or function of lines.
The Michigan Quarterly Review (in the early 90s) and Center (a few years ago) both devoted issues to the
line. Each poem, for me, has a different attention to lines, as if thinking could be driven and developed by the length
or sound of a line. A metrical line is not the same as a line that attempts to position thought into smaller moments and
wrestlings of thought. Lines by E. A. Robinson and William Carlos Williams don't operate under the same assumptions, but
I love them both. Lines by Philip Levine and Richard Wilbur aren't doing the same thing, but I need them both in my life.
I keep going back to a question I read more than 20
years ago by Octavio Paz: "What is saying?" My answer has always been, "Saying is the shape of
saying, the pace of saying, the sound and emphasis of each moment of saying." Yes, there
is a visual aspect to the lines in "A Short, Short Evening..." A poem has an X axis and Y axis, if I can go back
to my love of math. We go down the page while at the same time going across the page, and surely there must be
a tension between these two directions, even in our thoughts. Dropped lines, perhaps, can be a way to acknowledge that
tension or to go in both directions simultaneously.
I think of dropped lines as a way to capture the pace of thinking, the syntactical parceling out of phrases, to hear their
resonances and implications. A dropped line can be a way to focus or to emphasize words, phrases, sounds, images, hesitations,
etc. Other times, a dropped line can be a way to re-see, to deepen, to interrogate, or to qualify, what came before. I
sometimes sense a torque happening within the thought or music of a thought, and a dropped line becomes a way to tense an
already tense thought. If, in the process of writing, my thought ends halfway through a line, and if I then think of that
visual space as needing to be filled, in order to create symmetry or balance; sometimes the dropped line creates a way for
new words to appear, hopefully reaching that ever elusive insight or summing-up, that ground stepped onto and trusted to
exist suddenly holding me up.
You utilize some wonderfully long lines in this poem and, again, in much of your verse. I like the long line for two primary
reasons: 1) it allows for a long, almost lazy narrative movement and 2) it can be more acrobatic with music simply because
there's more horizontal space for alliteration, assonance, and so on and so forth. What calls you to the long line?
JH: First of all, I write many different kinds of poems,
only some of which appear in long lines. The length of a line is as much a part of the premise of a poem as is the poem's
initial statement. When I write in long lines, though, I will admit to feeling as if I am thinking differently-a claim
I can in no way prove, of course. Long lines, I believe, allow for an interplay between moving outward in thought and moving
inward in thought. Thought can be both expansive and introspective. I feel like I can hear language more musically. Take
the first two or three lines of "A Short, Short Life..." The first half line uses two compounds (stubble fields/fallen
fence row) as well as repetition of dactyls (stubble/fallen) and alliteration of f sounds. There is a music established,
but this music sounds narrative to my ear, like the beginning of something idyllic. Then the dropped line moves out of
the first line's word "fallen" into a person who has also fallen, who is "down drunk in the ditch line."
The man is down-as is the line-and the alliteration moves to a deeper register of d sounds, mirroring the man's
placement. Maybe my whole life can be summed up right there in that moment: the pull of the natural world, the outward
gaze toward the landscape and its promise of revelation, and then the reality of a man "down drunk," the tension
that pulls me back from "listening toward stars in the heavens" to the more immediate reality of "that stripped-clean
look on his face."
Short Short Life of Long Evenings" recounts a childhood event but from the point-of-view of an adult. This is rather
apparent in the middle stanzas and in that opening line to the penultimate stanza: "But back to the ditch line, back
to the arc of a night long gone,..." How did you manage to write a poem so successfully that recalls childhood but
isn't in that child's voice?
I wrote this poem, in 2005, I was in my late 30s, more than 30 years removed from the memory I recount of being sent to wake
a drunk man in a ditch. Hopefully, if the poem is successful, the poem is about the exploration of the memory but also
of larger concerns. Parts of this poem keep stepping forward each time I read it, and I suppose if I were writing the poem
eight years later (now), then I might delve deeper into what's hinted at in lines such as "Life's been hard and a hand-me-down
thing at best." What's this business about dying "in a closed-up book," and what's the implication for the
man in the ditch, for the child, for the speaker of the poem? How is memory a book we are creating, both as participants
and as observers, and what does it mean that we, too, are "bound for the trash heap" like those Galaxy 500s?
Who names a car Galaxy 500 in the first place? Why are "the gas pedals stuck"? Did Galaxy 500 make me think of
"listening toward stars in the heavens"? In that world I grew up in, full of drunkenness, abandonment, and multiple
homes/families, was I ever much of a child anyway? Something "never quite ends" in my thinking-that's true-and
it has to do with this tension between child and adult realities, between human and divine concerns, and between "what's
brief" and what's eternal. Though poems seek a balance, a resolution, an answer; they never actually get very far,
I suppose. They just provide a moment or two of prayerful consideration and then a letting go. So be it.
AMK: I love the repetition of words within lines in "Ellipses
for the Rain on its Way," such as "North of here and east of here," "What's the gist of gist,"
and "And so it goes, so it goes." There's also a lot of repetition from line to line, even more alliteration in
lines like "in a hush of hues hidden in a heap of sighs" and "So melancholy and mournful and misled the self"
and quite a bit of full and slant rhyme in moments like "Feed and Seed" and in the final words of the opening lines:
"below," "now," and "worry." When I first met you 15 years ago as a student at the Tennessee
Young Writers' Workshop, you taught me music was everything in poetry. Why is that? Why do you feel a poem must
JH: Music is what brought
me to poems. It is my first love. "Kubla Khan," "Fern Hill," and "anyone lived in a pretty how
town," among others, were some of the first poems that made me want to be inside a poem. The sound of a poem in the
ear and in the air is still magical to me. If the language is musical, it seems to imply that we can do something else
with language besides sell something or divide people along party lines. Language might actually sing what we want to know
but can't know, and maybe the sound can actually lead us along a little farther toward it. Language might let us eavesdrop
on our own thoughts and hear something richer by and by. Hymns have been, and continue to be, a big part of my life. A
person can actually sing and enjoy words, and words can be both private and shared, both individual and communal. Think
about that. Right now, so many people work themselves up into a frenzy with words; they rant about "issues."
As one of my unpublished sonnets says, "the soul belongs to hymns/inside the words, the perfect cadences/that sing
us something other, something wise." Music, I believe, sings us toward something we can't really reach any other way,
"something other, something wise." I can sometimes be brought to tears simply by singing the word "one"
from U2's song of the same name. The word just fills and fills with the prayer of itself. I want to hear words hearing
all the other words, all of them in one accord.
When do you know when a poem has enough music or too little?
I try my best to listen clearly and intimately to what's emerging in the process of writing-how all the moments of a poem
might comment on all the other moments-and to expect serendipity. Part of the music of a poem, other than alliteration,
assonance, and the like, is the balance of the tension of all the words, the sense that what has been set in motion and
explored actually achieves a resolution or, if you will, a harmony. A poem has enough music in it when I've read it aloud
enough times to believe that I'm as close to wholeness of thought as I can reach.
AMK: This poem is rather metaphysical in the concepts it examines but is extremely physical in
the way these musings occur to the speaker. Much of your poetry operates in this way: a speaker meditating on a subject
or a sequence of occurrences/observations. So there's a sense of narrative but the lyric is what actually carries the day,
the lyric carries the narrative. Is this a reasonable reading of your work? What is more essential to you: narrative or
JH: Do I have to choose between
narrative and lyric? I write and publish many narrative poems and have come close to publication with a couple of narrative
collections; but for whatever reason, this other kind of poem I sometimes write, this meditative, lyrical poem, has found
its way into acceptance and, thus, into my two published books. In fact, some of my readers prefer my narrative poems and
have bluntly told me so. If someone had published my narrative books, we'd be having a different conversation.
In my author's statement on the website Anti-, I offered the following:
"I'm anti one voice, one style, one mode, one tone, one frame within which a poem can fit. I don't want to read (or
write) two poems in a row that sound too similar. I want a new mind, am against the mind I already have." Poems are
an opportunity to try on a new mind, a new pace of thinking, a new strategy toward comprehending the totality of existence.
I just don't think a singular strategy of writing-sonnets, for instance, (though I have a collection!)-can adequately approach
what we're up against. One day narrative, the next lyric, the next rhyme, the next a combination of all three and some
other strategies too?
I prefer to think of a
poem as containing all manner of choices, some of them more foregrounded than others. In one poem, for instance, assonance
might be more prominent, serving to drive the poem's development more so than story, rhyme, conceit, cataloguing, etc. I
mean drive as in moving out ahead to help generate what comes next. A narrative poem relies obviously
on structure, on time, on parceling out an event or events into a sequence that reveals action and resolves a central tension.
To my mind, that's an entirely different template for a poem than, say, a poem that first describes a scene and then begins
to see its metaphorical, philosophical, or theological implications and attempts to tease these out. The purpose of the
poem seems different; the place the mind goes to is different; the experience of reading is different.
AMK: What's going on with the dropped line in the quatrains
of "From a Day of Falling Snow." I like how this notion of dropping one line per quatrain creates a little form,
but why use quatrains in the first place if you're going to break it up like this?
JH: I like the swerve a mind can make, the metaphorical leaps from one thing to the next. I
don't want the next thought to be simply the next thought, so to speak, but to be the thought just after that, or the thought
five years from now when the magnitude can be comprehended. The connection between these stanzas is minimal, or associative,
rather than straightforward. After having written so many narrative poems in my career, I began to seek a new shape for
a poem. In my first collection, Fall Sanctuary, there were a couple of poems ("Summons" and "Breathing
Exercise") that were among these quatrain poems, with five stanzas per poem, which seemed like a useful arc. (For
what it's worth, one stanza was inadvertently left out in "Breathing Exercise" when it appeared in the book).
Instead of straightforward quatrains, I wanted to explore dropping a portion of one line per stanza as a way to emphasize
syntax or phrasing. Sentence structure can be a way to push forward to a reader what the writer wishes to be thought of
as central. Also, given that these poems hopefully exist in the ear, not only on the page, I began to drop lines as a way
to hear better the significance of key words or phrases. In an ideal world, I like to think that the dropped lines from
each stanza are carrying on a separate, or more intimate, conversation among themselves. Though "From a Day of Falling
Snow" uses quatrains, twenty-six poems in Notes for a Praise Book rest in tercets, five stanzas per poem.
Reading these poems aloud, I have found that the dropped line provides me with a place to dwell, to hear the implications
not only of the line's words but also of the whole stanza's purpose. I hope the same happens for readers. I wish to slow
the language down and to meditate upon it. As one poem in the book states, "I want to resurrect the word ‘abide'..."
I'm asking how we can "abide" in words. How can we find our home in them, our source in them, our attentiveness
to them? How can abiding in words allow us to hear more deeply our own existence, the inconceivable and miraculous fact
of being here and thinking about who we are and why we are?
Going back to your penchant for philosophy, I can't help but notice that your musings often occur in nature. I'm wondering
how this happens for you physically. What comes first: philosophical lines like "I think it takes forever for the soul
to find its edge" or observational ones like "trees / stretched to every trembling inch"?
JH: In short, observation comes first. I may come across
as a buffoon for saying this, but I sometimes think that if I just stare at something long enough, then something unforeseen
will step forward, something inconceivable with my own small mind will be revealed to me-almost as if a shining
could simply step out of the scene and audibly speak some truth. I know that sounds grandiose, but what else is the writing
process if not a deep desire, on some level, to know what essentially is forever out of reach and unknowable? Or maybe
the idea that it "takes forever for the soul to find its edge" is what naturally follows the observation that
"[t]he trees have never been more still..." Out of that stillness, which seems endless, the endlessness of the
soul emerges, the endlessness of thinking about the soul...
AMK: What is it about nature that intrigues you so?
JH: I've written about my childhood before, but let me say again that I spent most of my childhood
immersed in the natural world. My father was a towboat pilot on the Mississippi river, and when he was home, we often camped
for weeks. We did this several times a year, no matter the season. In one part of my life, I lived in town, went to school,
did normal things, and then every other month or so we went to the woods. We had friends who owned 2000 acres. I wandered
the woods, floated the creek, sat near a campfire, listened to men swap stories, searched for arrowheads and fossils, and
generally existed in the center of a lot of silence. In a sonnet I wrote many years ago, I talk about "a quiet from
the core of time," about riding an inner tube downstream within that quiet. In the sestet, I state:
So when I speak, sometimes I speak from there,
that sense of drifting through surrounded on
by wilderness and nothing said.
I suppose if one has
ever entered into that kind of deep, abiding, eternal sense of time's passage, then it's hard not to want to be there all
the time or to think of it as a context through which one moves. I look at the natural world all the time, but I've never
really seen it in its fullness. The least thing is beyond me. If poems are my way of slowing down words to better hear
them; and if words are generative, creating anew what I see; then I'm always trying to get to that holy place I believe
is at the core of my existence. I first heard it as a child, and I've spent thirty years trying to grow up into it even
more, trying to eavesdrop on the infinite. It really does take "forever for the soul to find its edge." Maybe
that's a blessing and among the more beautiful aspects of being here.
AMK: What concerns you more, each line or how the lines look and operate together on the page?
JH: My closest friend, the poet Wil Mills, used to say
that I was uppity about lines. His comment was playful, albeit perceptive. The integrity of the line, the conception of
the line-these were matters he and I discussed and about which we did not entirely agree. Being a formal poet, Wil's conception
of the line was metrical; he is the reason why I sometimes write in form, especially sonnets, and hear where the language
goes in that shape, in that conception. To me, though, meter is only one kind of line-a fun, mysterious, incredibly rich
way to write poems, but to me, settling into that approach is like settling into a single genre in music. I love it, I
wish to participate in it, but I don't want to live there all the time. I need both Coldplay and Alison Krauss,
both Patty Griffin and Third Day. There are too many other great "genres," if you will, too many other
ways to conceive of the shape of thought, to choose only one, especially if each one can pitch the mind toward something
the others can't quite do.
Much of my first introductions
to poetry came through wildly varied poets such as William Carlos Williams, James Wright, William Kloefkorn, Linda Gregg,
Dave Etter, Stephen Dunn, Michael Burkard, Mary Oliver, Albert Goldbarth, and Tomas Transtromer, to name only a few. Each
of these poets provides a different way to think about how lines might look or function in a poem. Think about having been
given Williams' "This Is Just To Say" or "So Much Depends," as many of us were in high school, and thinking
that these were the only poems by Williams or the only way to write a poem. Then think of encountering his collection Desert
Music or poems such as "To Asphodel, That Green Flower" or "The Pink Locust." The same person
who wrote that wheelbarrow poem wrote these poems? The poems seem so far from one another in what they approach and think
about. Both are needed.
I think in lines; I compose
in lines. In my process of writing, the shape of a line determines thought-it generates the thought and the development
of the thought. I love how a line can be a thought unto itself, lived with as if it were the only reality available, spoken
to the self as if it held a central truth. I also love how a line can be both whole and partial, both a resting place and
a starting point. How lines look on the page and work in relation to one another marries some need for the visual and the
aural to reach a balance. Of course, because the lines are born out of syntax, and since what one encounters first creates
a context through which one understands, or interprets, what comes next, then each line is essentially a metaphor, too-vehicle
AMK: Ok, here's
the scenario: deserted island, plenty of food, shelter, medicine, things to write with.... but not a single collection of
poetry. What book would you most wish you had with you and why?
JH: The obvious answer is the Bible, isn't it, but since so much of it is also poetry, maybe
I can't get away with that choice. A novel I adore is Jose Saramago's All the Names. His sentences offer philosophical
meanderings that could provide weeks of wandering the edges of my deserted island. The story is simply beautiful, and Senhor
Jose's search to find and know a single person is everyone's search. I like to think I would never tire of reading this
novel. Of course, maybe I should just take along Proust. On a deserted island, having found time at last, I might finally
follow through with reading all those pages, the search having both finally begun and come to an end.
Click here to read an interview with Jeff Harding by Joanne Merriam
Click here to read Jeff Hardin's interview for The Next Big Thing series Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews