Hard Landing
by Rick Smith
cover art by RD Armstrong
Lummox Press, P.O. Box 5301, San Pedro, CA 90733-5301, 2000, 105 pp., $15.
Available though Amazon

Reviewed by Nancy Berbrich
A literary magazine dedicated to the spirit of the Adirondacks

It's always a thrill here in the North Country to catch a glimpse of the brilliant flame-colored cardinals, the deep blue of the jays, or the crazy red-head of a pileated woodpecker. Wrens, on the other hand, are ordinary birds, inconspicuous little brown birds so common that many people ignore them. But Rick Smith notices the wrens. His poetry collection, Hard Landing, celebrates the presence of these seemingly ubiquitous little birds.

Years ago I took a wonderful class in ecology. I learned a great deal, but the textbook I was burdened with was some of the worst writing I have ever had the misfortune to read. Because of this experience, I discovered that ecology books should definitely be written in poetry. With illustrations by RD Armstrong and Judith Bever and photographs by Bonnie Love-Nordoff, Rick Smith has written just such a book.

Smith educates us on the habits of wrens. We find them living in LA, Philadelphia, Madagascar, Paris, Mexico, Ireland, Spain, and China. They will nest almost anywhere - - "cave, hole, bra-on-the line" and in "An estate near Philadelphia / ...They build their nest / in the back of an upholstered sofa, / coming and going / through a hole torn in the cover. /...On the porch of the same house, / a brood in a rolled up / Japanese screen..." / "these two nest in the eye socket / of the steer skull / by the wooden door." We learn that "(The largest wren in / North America is the Cactus Wren)," and that not only do wrens live in the desert, but also in the cities, in the northern woods, and even in the rain forests. They are "Snake bait on the equator," threatened by owls in the desert, and kept as pets in Paris.

In "Reyezuelo, roitelet, little king" Smith mentions the ancient legend of the election of the king of the birds, and in "Back in 86 A.D" he playfully lets Wren have his own voice in relating the tale of how he won the title of king bird by hiding in the feathers on the back of the eagle before taking flight the few higher feet it took to be the highest flying bird.

Besides his impressive knowledge about these birds, Rick Smith is a skillful poet. I love how he captures the flit and flutter of the wrens: "Wren on ash, / wren on birch, / spots on the skin, / the character of a / wren on saguaro, / on palm, in light / in blue and black, / on curved wall, on brick. / Wren on rock & wood, / in snow, straw, sand..." I love how, with a poet's tools, he artfully weaves the lives of the wrens into a reflection of those who are often overlooked and ignored in our own human society.

The wrens are buffeted and overcome by circumstances beyond their control. They live in dangerous neighborhoods. They are bullied by more powerful birds. They live with fear and thirst. They suffer from the cold. Yet they live their tiny lives.

Like wrens, most of us live plain little brown lives, "small lives in a hard land." This poet shows us that as insignificant as we might think we are, each life matters, each has a part to play, and each has a lovely complex song to sing.

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