The Hermit’s Place
By Bernard Quetchenbach
Wild Leaf Press, New Haven, CT
A quick look through the contents of Bernard Quetchenbach’s book The Hermit’s Place might leave you overwhelmed by the use of the word “hermit.” All 63 poems in this collection use the word in the title, but that establishes a sense of character and story for the collection even before reaching the opening, untitled piece on page seven. Here we are introduced to the mystery of this man, the hermit, a man who we will come to learn more about while also being reminded of the hermit lore, the lone man in the woods and that lingering question – is he still there?
lived up here
These haiku-like poems are sparse and tightly wound, giving us a vivid glimpse into the life of a man who abandoned his car and ventured into the wilderness on his “first long walk.” No poem is longer than forty words or so, and despite that kind of sparse language, Quetchenbach successfully pulls the reader into the story and the life of the hermit. I was repeatedly impressed by how much story could be packed into a few well-crafted lines. One of my favorites:
The Hermit’s Well
I scrape the swayback boulder
Wait for rain.
That says a lot about this man, his resourcefulness, patience, and planning. And early in the collection the story is cohesive and grounded in a believable reality. There’s no room for the story to lag, and it never gets stuck in a place of fantasy.
The layout of the book also complements the poetry. Each poem is set on its own, wide page featuring lots of white space, as though the poem has been dropped there simply for the sake of contemplation. And then, in contrast to these bleak pages, the book features eleven black and white illustrations by Christopher Engstrom, each of which fills a page with Rorschach-like (though not symmetrical) images that seem to capture the very essence of the hermit’s lonely life.
face among stars
Closer to home
And so it is a modern story, one set in the time of satellites, where some men still consider leaving the car on the side of the road and heading into the dark woods to become, and remain, a mystery. The story gives us quite a bit more than the hermit’s place. We come to understand his frame of mind too, though we might never understand what led him to the solitary life.
There is a lingering timelessness in this collection, as though what the hermit seeks is something that we all seek — maybe a place where we can come to grips with who we are without the distracting buzz of the modern world. But as the reader considers this man who has left the world behind, one thing is certain:
the last page