Review: ROCK WORN BY WATER by Florence Chard Dacey

Ecuador RPCV Marnie Mueller is the author of Green Fires, which won the 1995 Maria Thomas Fiction Award and an American Book Award.  Her other novels are The Climate of the Country and My Mother’s Island. The latter has been optioned for a feature film, the screenplay of which, she has signed on to write.   She has recently completed a new novel, Don’t Think Twice.  Here she reviews:


rock-worn-by-waterRock Worn By Water
by Florence Chard Dacey (Nigeria 1963–65)
Austin: Plain View Press
March 2009
77 pages

Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 1963–65)

Florence Chard Dacey had endeared herself to me before I even opened her book for review. Take note, fellow writers! Her accompanying letter was exemplary in its restraint, simply stating the facts of publication (date, price, and ISBN) and that she as a former volunteer would like her collection to be listed and considered for review on the Peace Corps Worldwide website; she included no deconstruction of her text or thematic selling points for the book. Accompanying her letter was a straight-forward, one page press release from her small press publisher that listed her credits along with a couple of glowing blurbs. I thought, this is pro, as I cracked her beautifully produced volume of poetry with eagerness.

Chard Dacey did not disappoint. She’s a good poet, whose major theme is the place where humans and the natural world intersect, frequently in rapture, though sadly, in these accelerating times we live in, all too often on a collision course. Full disclosure: As an environmentalist and a nature observer myself, I don’t much like flowery poems that use nature as metaphor, nor overly didactic poems that blatantly lay out atrocities perpetrated on the land. But Chard Dacey is neither of those writers, and that’s what makes her poems so fine and interesting. She weaves her praise songs organically out of a deep knowledge of the Minnesota eco-system. She knows her land, her flowers, and her fauna so completely that the wilderness merges effortlessly with her poetic self. There’s no need or room for fancy flights in her plainspoken verse. She deals with the politics of destruction with equal subtlety through the simple juxtaposition of undemanding nature with the follies of insistent human stresses.

In one of my favorites in the collection, “What I Did Not See,” she opens, A bee complained how I kept him from his cup of purple flower/so I moved on. The stanzas that follow posit all the goings-on of nature that she doesn’t see, “But I knew were there —,” and how what she doesn’t see “steadies her,” when she’s far away from the prairie which is her first home. And then in an elegiac tone, she writes, I know a hill where prairie smoke will write/its pink and purple story every June, even as/machines not far away break the earth to make another road.

Her use in a number of poems of the beautiful prairie smoke flower — they cover the prairie floor in spring, dipping their heads in the wind and from afar look like carpets of rolling smoke-made me wonder if she intended this as a political metaphor. Is this the prairie fire plumes of environmental activism, an antidote to the rolling thunder of destruction? Though it worked that way for me, I would guess she’d tell me that I’m reading too much into the image. Her touch is light in her lyrical and oft-times ecstatic political poems. She pays reverence to the world of barnacled whales in the powerful “With the Whales.” and mourns the death of a 4900-year-old tree killed in the service of scientific inquiry, in the ironic “Old Tree”; she admires the wolf packs that free their wild spirits by chewing off telemetric collars, in the sad yet hopeful “Collar,” and in “Waves,” a poem that gently urges the reader toward activism, she wonders “Do you think waves imagine anything?”

This is a volume of excellent, strong poems. My only caveat is that by the end one has the feeling the book has gone on too long by a few tonal beats. The subject matter is so much of a piece that I felt the book would be better served by dropping five or six of the weaker, reiterative offerings.

But that said, any of these poems could be used for testimony in public hearings, as Chard Dacey herself did with her poem “Certificate of Need” before The Minnesota Waste Management Board or equally as well savored in some quiet spot where one can take the time to contemplate the beauty of her language and the world she so lovingly depicts.

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