“Bedding Vows: Love Poems from Outback Maine,” by Patricia Smith Ranzoni; North Country Press, Unity, Maine, 2012; 108 pages, hardcover, $20.
Patricia Ranzoni of Bucksport has for decades been sketching life as it’s actually lived in rural Maine — a strand of that life, anyway —in probing, evocative writings. Her most recent collection of poetry, “Bedding Vows: Love Poems from Outback Maine,” is among her strongest expressions on the subject yet.
The themes of these poems will be familiar to readers of “Settling,” her compendium of writings that waded into the thickets and bogs of the backwoods and recorded personal efforts to clear space there. The space, it turns out in “Settling,” “Bedding Vows” and Ranzoni’s other works, is not just spatial. It’s centered on the home, which is a house for sure, but it’s also dimensions of experience that include food, family, friends and, not least, relatives, who extend well outside the house into the recent and deep past.
Cooking as a central nourishing activity is a primary figure. “Rosemary, Herb of Remembrance,” for example, offers not only the kitchen scent of the plant, but also its lore, including the history of its introduction into a backwoods Maine home: “What did we know of Rosemary over on the Town Farm Road / where none had grown before but that she was colorful as / the Mediterranean lands our father told us about after the war?”
In one sentence is evoked the delight of the herb, the setting, and the direction in time the herb is going to take us: into the past.
In fact, the deep past suffuses the present throughout the book. The poems, centering around a lifelong love affair, are constantly recalling youth (“Making May baskets”); the ancient woods (“We Hunt”); routine (“Making Polenta in Maine in Winter”: “The ways have been brought over and up to now and the woman / wants the house’s smell to be thought”); work (“No End to It”); ancestry Captain Snowman’s Great-Granddaughter Buys a Mermaid for her Birdbath”); generations (“Answering How Come You Always Rock the Baby”); and ethnicity, which unfolds in a section of “Serein/Rain from an Apparently Cloudless Sky,” a 37-section tour de force of Ranzoni’s poetic powers.
Recounting a husband’s battle with a life-threatening illness, the speaker dreams of “a sacred visitation” by a Penobscot medicine friend, an “ageless African” and a young Inuit woman, “all four races / the way we looked before separation” (including the speaker herself).
“You decide we’ll go for supplies … it’s not too late I’ll go anywhere with you anytime,” the speaker says at one point, crystallizing the emotional tenor of the book.
This is Patricia Ranzoni’s best book in a while, which is saying something after volumes such as “Hibernaculum,” “Only Human” and others. It’s available from North Country Press, 126 Main St., Unity 04988.
Dana Wilde’s latest book is “Nebulae: A Backyard Cosmography” (2012, $20.95) a collection of essays, exploring the stars, planets and galaxies and mapping trails for stargazers, dreamers, home philosophers. His prior collection of essays is “The Other End of the Driveway,” available from Booklocker.com. For a new poem from Maine each week, read “A Parallel Uni-Verse” at www.dwildepress.net/universe.