The self-described mission of Free Verse Editions (in new partnership with Parlor Press) is to publish free verse that “[uses] language to dramatize a singular vision of experience, a mastery of craft, a deep knowledge of poetic tradition, and a willingness to take risks.” Divination Machine, a new release from the Free Verse book series presents to us the very archetype of that poetic mission and aesthetic.
Divination Machine is the second full-length book of poetry from F. Daniel Rzicznek, and it demonstrates the growth of a poet who is continually challenging himself and evolving, a poet who persists in the exploration of poetry as literature and as a way to translate our world.
In his first book, Neck of the World (Utah State University Press), Rzicznek presents to us a deeply personal poetry, a poetry of “inseeing,” as Jane Mead so aptly describes it. This poetry is a balance between speakers and their environments, an exploration of that relationship between man and nature which inspires in its readers the same awe the speakers exhibit. Rzicznek has a fine-tuned ear that flawlessly presents to us language in all of its exquisiteness – the words and their sounds come together so perfectly that his poetry seems effortless.
The title poem, “Neck of the World,” encapsulates his ability to explore the outer world while revealing an interior fraught with wonder and confusion, a voice that can sing us gently to sleep even while exploring a naked and sometimes ugly reality:
For eons we string animals
up (humans, too) and for years
they die speechlessly down
upon us. Someone told me
flesh makes a bed in quiet,
expansive soil, in cascades
of sweat, even some drunkard’s
vision of the self as dove.
No one tells me if the dove
can swim, or will be eaten –
eventually. These rank pears.
A watery daughter I hadn’t
dared imagine pleads goodbye.
Divination Machine, Rzicznek’s second book, capitalizes on his understanding of the inherent song and measure of language, but as an even more intense study of the natural world and its complete distance from technology and “modern” society. Gone in part is the “inseeing” of Neck of the World, and what we get in Divination Machine is a piercing view of the outside; these poems remind us of the beauty and complexity of nature, details we often overlook or do not consider enough, as we are told in “Natural History,” a meditation on a stuffed elk displayed in a museum:
If there were a looking from out
of the eyes, it could awake through this,
but the world
in all its difficult cycles, is missing:
wind, snow, blood, rot, rain, change.
The way man displays nature immediately detracts from reality; we only impose a stuffed narration of our own imaginations, while the gritty real, unfettered natural world is still out there somewhere, missed by our view through the dead eyes of our trophies.
We need to, Rzicznek argues, move outside of ourselves to truly see “the oak where bees / toss their dead to the ground. // The freeze-whitened treelimb: / the glass encased treelimb. // The sun and its roof / of blood: heavy of light of cold.” We need to see the earth’s diorama, the natural natural history museum.
Rzicznek gives us the “return of the world’s tongue – // and yes, this is the one world / where each impossibility, work / undone waits with absolute patience.”
But this book doesn’t completely leave behind the stunning self-meditation of Neck of the World. The poem “Divination” is a faultless example of how Rzizcnek maintains deep contemplation entwined with his newer, more piercing outseeing. It begins:
My life listens for a place where
the snow leans and melts, runs
down, naked as the bright water
that turns green in the mind.
And where does green
leave the mind?
This poem is at once a prayer – a conversation with some larger force that controls our universe, whether that is God or energy or “mother nature” – and an internal struggle with where self and the natural world meet; yet the speaker is content with this struggle and may not want an end or an answer to the questions:
If I could say aloud my true
name, then the town rabbits
who dart from my steps might
be calmed. And what, then,
would I have to marvel at?
This marveling is innate in Rzicznek’s writing and contagious to readers; his poems create a harmonious convergence of philosophy, language, breath, and song. Although it would seem practically impossible, Divination Machine is a book of even more precision than Neck of the World; the musicality and measure of its lines shows a mastery of the poetic line that is a “current / running fast with winter melt / from the path where sight turns.”
Through polyphony of word, line, and interlude, the poems have the ability to enact the music of the world outdoor, unadulterated and natural:
So many centers to the world,
so may wire-hot wings tossing
in the stone lung of each edifice –
the nightscape is of peach-glow
windows, of pitch against them.
In the creel of light I roast
my heels, let thoughts of weather
roll back untouched, unthought
Rzicznek teaches us that poems such as these can speak to us, just as our world can, if we allow them to “roll untouched, unthought” off our tongues and simultaneously appreciate their infinite centers and meditate on the complexity they have to offer.