Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: Wheatfields and Vineyards

Book Review: Wheatfields and Vineyards
Author:  Ralph W. Seager
Date: 1975
Publisher: Christian Herald
ISBN: 0-915684-00-4
Length: 94 pages
Illustrations: drawings by the author

Quote: “The winds of March wind up the willow trees / All through the day, until their springs are tight.”
Professor Seager wrote from the Appalachian foothills of New York state. The phenomenon whereby circular storm winds moving out from the Midwest usually break up, as they approach the mountains, into a mild wind that shifts from one direction to the other after a few hours, is common throughout the mountain region.
I am, like C.S. Lewis, so coarse the things some poets see are obstinately invisible to me; I can’t see why Seager chose to write “The high hawk hangs on the thread of hunger” rather than “The hawk hangs high...” To my mind, these mostly rhyming poems are flawed, but still enjoyable. They paint pictures of animals, places, and people. If you’re attracted to the idea of painting pictures with words, you’ll like Wheatfields and Vineyards.
Although they were published by Christian Herald Press, most of the poems aren’t religious. “Protect Me Not” is more cute than evangelical:

                  “My policy states that I am covered
                From loss by various acts of God...
                still we cannot compensate,
                to wit, the following risks to you:
                The act of arson in the fall
                when ivy sets fire to your wall—
                nor shady deals and other gyps
                when the sun goes in eclipse—
                ...I waive all claims against such fraud;
                Protect me not from these acts of God.”
Then there’s an epitaph that borders on being cute, although it doesn’t offend me:

                  “His life was uphill like his haying,
                With hardship and ill fortune preying
                Parasitic on their host,
                He never had much chance to coast...
                God leaned down to fourscore seven,
                And gave a hand-up into heaven.”
There are, however, a half-dozen religious poems, not precisely orthodox: “Although your patience with me must be tried, / I come to you as Self—not Self denied,” Seager tells “the Lord.” 
All of these poems express love—of place, of nature, of traditions, and of course of people. Perhaps the love lyrics addressed to people are the weakest. A list of those of Seager’s favorite things that have names beginning with C, which starts with a rhyme scheme it can’t sustain, calls to mind the kindergarten-level “Sound Box” books by Jane Belk Moncure (the poem is, of course, leading up to a woman’s name). On the other hand, the image of

                  “A weed of a woman in white and blue...
                A wispy, dusty white she was—
                Blue hat—and a cane of hickory;
                I see her every time I see
                Queen Anne’s lace and chicory”

is as lively and lovely a portrait of an old lady as I’ve seen in any book.

If you like the lines quoted here, Wheatfields and Vineyards is for you. Online, it will cost $5 + $5 shipping, which is the best I can do on any online book, and since Ralph Seager no longer needs the dollar our pricing allows on Fair Trade Books, I won't be offended if you find a better deal at another online bookstore.