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The Road by Heart—Poems of Fatherhood
edited by Greg Watson and Richard Broderick

(Nodin Press)


Fatherhood is notoriously over­looked and unappreciated, and being a new father myself I now understand why—it’s like going up to a rich person and saying, “Thanks for being affluent!” But being a father is a responsibility as well as a privilege, and it can be a tragic role as easily as a comic one. Fathers Greg Watson and Richard Broderick seem to know that, and so The Road by Heart anthology they put together is not one of those humorous books with photos of messy kids and quotes about being a dad. It’s a collection of mostly serious poems that cover the long hike through fatherhood, from a child’s birth through the first day of school, driving lessons, leaving home, and in some cases, death. As family educator Ted Bowman explains in the Introduction, “This is a volume by fathers about being a father.”

A reader not familiar with contemporary Minnesota poets might find a lot of strangers have been invited to this shindig. There are old friends like Charles Bukowski, Richard Wilbur and Kenneth Rexroth present—but who the heck is Alex Lemon, Tim Nolan, Bao Phi, David Mura, Mike Finley, Hardy Coleman? Yet it is the relatively obscure poets who shine brightest here, not the earnest mid-20th-century heavy hitters. Exhibit A: I probably would have hated having Howard Nemerov as a dad:


The world is full of mostly invisible things,

And there is no way but putting the mind’s eye,

Or its nose, in a book to find them out

(“To David, About His Education”)


Exhibit B: Seamus Heaney I would have gotten along better with, when he didn’t depress me:


Before the kite plunges down into the wood

and this line goes useless

take it in your two hands, boys, and feel

the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.

(“A Kite for Michael and Christopher”)


Exhibit C: I think local poet Danny Klecko would have been a swell dad:


Hours later, everybody at our table is drunk

It occurs to me, for the first time, my kids are talking to each other

Not because they have to, but because they want to

This brought me joy as the server

brought the tab.

(“Whiskey with My Kids”)


Like most meet & greets, The Road by Heart is not enthralling every minute—but it is a place where you can meet new stars as well as enjoy the old ones. Chad Prevost (“Already Waving”) and C. G. Hanzlicek (“Egg”) were unknown to me, but I’ll be sure to add them to my reading list. In the latter poem Hanzlicek is scrambling eggs for his daughter, and he is whistling because he is happy, and then some­how arrives at:


Everything changes, we’re told,

And now the changes are everywhere:

The house with its morning light

That fills me like a revelation,

The yard with its trees

That cast a bit more shade each summer


I can’t think of a better metaphor for fatherhood than those growing trees and their growing shade.

Watson and Broderick, like any good hosts, are present too, but not overbearing. Watson’s “Perhaps You Were Never So Small” is, in fact, one of the highlights of the collection:


Perhaps you were never as small

as our simple eyes

observed, but merely

coming from a distance

we could not measure


In the end it’s the children, and not their poet-fathers, who come to assume center stage in this worthy and worthwhile anthol­ogy. They’re what makes fatherhood magical—a truth that even the jaded Bukowski could grasp in his poem “marina:” (“my little girl is / sun / on the carpet”) and that Tim Nolan brings home to us in “The Kids”:


It’s everything this snapshot

all the king’s ransom

all the privileges of the realm.


- Joel Van Valin