Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Gathering View by Jack C. Buck. (Punch Drunk Press)
Jack C. Buck’s first book, Deer Michigan, leaned heavily on nostalgia with fond memories of his past. It was a love letter to everyone he grew up with and all the events that helped mold him into the person he is now. Buck’s new collection, Gathering View, is simultaneously more and less personal. The book is broken into three sections: football, love, and leaving. The way these poems are written give the reader a more universal connection we can attach ourselves to, but they also show the inner-workings of how Buck’s mind processes ideas.
The first section “The Field” has a child-like whimsy to it. The poems are short and seemingly simple. On the surface, these are poems about watching football in the fall, but the further we read the more we can see how they go beyond the game. They inhabit a space where we’re young and enjoying the sport for the pure enjoyment. I pined for the moments I had growing up as I read these poems, because life was free of static and I gave it all my attention and energy. These poems also show how watching sports creates a communal atmosphere, as displayed in “A Needed Belief” when he writes, “propelled by hands and feet / hold onto one another / in this shared life.” Each individual has a job, but when we all come together we work toward a common goal. It works for the game, but also for our role in a successful society.
The next section “Where We Were Here Before” focuses on being in love. This part of the book is set in winter when the speaker is essentially snowbound inside with a significant other. The poems are wistful and personal while Buck dissects life with another. These poems try and crack the code for everlasting love, and there is something honorable in the attempt. In the poem “Our” he writes, “thinking if we say anymore of it / it will become love / a love that could one day stop / so if we never allow it to begin with / it has no way of ever ending.” This thought process is compelling because he’s trying to put logic into something that is illogical. We don’t choose who we love and it’s difficult to cheat these emotions, so the fact that he is looking for ways around these feelings make the poems hopeful. It’s a romantic endeavor, trying to preserve these relationships at their peak moments, and I can’t help but root for him regardless of how futile it might seem.
As I read and re-read through Gathering View, I saw more of what Jack C. Buck was doing, especially with parallel themes.
The final section “We Save Us” is a necessary downturn. The first two sections have high levels of hope for the future because it seems so far away in front of him, and while this section has hope involved, it looks at a stark reality close at hand. The unknown isn’t so bad when you have someone by your side, but these final poems take a look at the unknown as a sole individual. In “Become Something New” he writes about how “you eventually turn into spring / and who knows what the possibilities are / when that happens / only spring and you will know.” There are hints of regret for a past easily imagined, but the future is brighter on the side of the unknown. It’s the sign of outgrowing your surroundings, but still wondering about what once was.
As I read and re-read through Gathering View, I saw more of what Jack C. Buck was doing, especially with parallel themes. The first section is set in the fall when the world slows down and prepares for a long winter. It’s also about football and how that brings a community together. It is pulling these together in a nostalgic memory of being a part of the crowd with a common goal. The second section looks at preserving love, and he puts a physical spin on it by surrounding these poems in ice. It moves beyond community and takes a look at intimate one-on-one relationships. It is an us-against-the-world perspective and there is a sense that they’ll refuse the world at all costs. Until the third section when spring arrives, and he’s got to go into the world alone. It is bittersweet because the move is clearly the right choice, but he still has to leave everything else behind.
Reading each of these sections individually gives us a view of a specific culture in America; but when you put them all together it paints a picture of someone coming up against hard realities. Gathering View is a book that truly transports you into someone else’s shoes and you feel the growing pains as you look forward to a better tomorrow.