Poet Tom Hennen: American master, hidden right under our noses

A New York Times review of Minnesota poet Tom Hennen’s latest book calls him an “American master.”

Hennen, who was born in Morris in 1942, worked much of his life as a letterpress printer and a naturalist. Retired, he now lives in St. Paul to be close to his children and grandchildren.  Copper Canyon Press just published a review of his poetry called “Darkness Sticks to Everything.” It’s his first national publication, and for NY Times reviewer Dana Jennings, the collection is a revelation.

His Shaker-clear voice is that of the prairie and the country, evoking John Clare from 19th-century England, the flensed-to-the-bone work of the great Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge and the aphoristic lyrics of certain ancient Chinese poets… It’s hard to believe that this American master — and I don’t use those words lightly — has been hidden right under our noses for decades. But despite his lack of recognition, Mr. Hennen, like any practical word-farmer, has simply gone about his calling with humility and gratitude in a culture whose primary crop has become fame.

Hennen

 

Jennings continues:

…one of the pleasures of “Darkness Sticks to Everything” is watching Mr. Hennen age into full lyric wisdom. In one of his new prose poems, “What the Bees Found,” he writes of a field “with bits of time bending in the wind,” of a bee dancing “a map in the air” to remind him “where a lost day can be found.” And he closes: “Then I will feel a sudden sting for neglecting the search for what is most sweet.”

But Mr. Hennen is too hard on himself. For nearly 40 years he has stoutly and quietly stood his poetic ground, seeking that sweetness.

You can read the full review here.