In his new collection of poetry, Lures, Adam Vines uses memory, human connection, and landscape to draw out feelings of grief, love, and trauma. I appreciate when poetry reveals wisdom slowly, from a place that is almost hidden ⏤ something Vines does well.
Adam Vines is associate professor of English and director of creative writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is editor of the Birmingham Poetry Review and author of three collections of poetry, including Out of Speech. His work has appeared in multiple journals, including Poetry, the Kenyon Review, and the Southern Review.
Vines’ poems are human in their ruminations and very specific to his Southern upbringing, particularly to memories of his Alabama youth.
The collection begins with a poem about moving on, the contradictions of life, and the significance of simplicity. The poem, titled “Maintenance for the Heartbroken,” states:
consider the toilets we spray with blue
then flush down… consider what we see now
at 2:00 a.m. in the kitchen, the grout
we might or might not finally clean; the bond
that holds this floor together will remain
soiled or not, we know.
It brings us to ourselves, and reassures us that life moves, regardless.
For Vines, fishing is less of a topic and more of a thread woven throughout: fishing as peace, fishing as the oneness of nature, fishing as nostalgia, fishing as belief, and fishing as metaphor for the cycle of life.
The Southern outdoors feels like a second home in these poems, a place in which you dwell with the writer. Vines does this really great summoning of the past into the present. In the poem titled “Lures” he is remembering a childhood friend. He is far from home, but somehow close through the richness of his memory. He writes: “today / is 12/12/12, the Mayan end, and I, / a country boy in Brooklyn for the week, / will hail a cab for the first time and think / of cows unnerved by fish we missed.”
It’s a simultaneous longing back and movement forward. Both he and his friend exist in the past and present, and both, past and present, exist in him and wherever he goes.
There’s grief in these pages, grief through the mundane images of life, not so mundane when Vines writes. In “After Losing A Child” he describes grief as a constant, as an awareness that stays with you, from the moment you wake. He writes:
The sun is winking early daffodils,
the yellow bells the same. The late spring frost
will knock them back, but you are lost
in turning soil, tomato seeds the pills
you plant, your body hunched in shame or prayer.
We haven’t talked today.
My favorite poems are those he dedicates to his daughter Mary. I find these poems unruly and raw, but also steady in their knowledge of unconditional love. In the first, “This Little Piggy,” he writes:
and I see clearly that the red
in my beard is the red in her curls
but also that my daughter
is not mine, that love is not possession
or a mere pronoun or an apostrophe
in the sympathetic system of language,
that one day she will realize that her feet
conform to her will, her heart,
and we will walk away from me.
In an even simpler, yet no less powerful, poem titled “Tea Party,” he states: “I hold her hair like flower stems. / My daughter is sick again, / but she still asks for tea times.”
There’s something in these poems that exudes effortless love.
I think the overarching beauty, though, of the book as a whole, is how Vines takes something as tangible as a fisherman and relates it to the less-tangible mental faculties of attachment, loss, and memory; in this effort, he makes the ambiguous tangible.
By Adam Vines
Published January 12, 2022