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Wayne State University Press

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Practicing to Walk Like a Heron

Jack Ridl

Award Winner


Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: February 2013
ISBN: 9780814334539
Pages: 176 Size: 6 x 9
Published: February 2013
ISBN: 9780814335390
Pages: 176 Size: EPUB

Jack Ridl is a superstar in the realm of compassionate, transporting, life-changing poetry.

— Naomi Shihab Nye

In Practicing to Walk Like a Heron multiple-award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl shares lines of well-earned wisdom in the face of a constantly changing world. The familiar comforts of life—a warm fire in winter, a lush garden in summer—become the settings for transcendent and universal truths in these poems, as moments of grief, sadness, and melancholy trigger a deeper appreciation for small but important joys. The simple clarity of Ridl's lines and diction make the poems accessible to all readers, but especially rewarding for those who appreciate carefully honed, masterful verse.

Many of the poems take solace in nature—quiet deer outside in the woods, deep snow, a thrush's empty nest in the eaves—as well as man-made things in the world—a steamer trunk, glass jars, tea cups, and books piled high near an easy chair. Yet Ridl avoids becoming nostalgic or romantic in his surroundings, and shows that there is nothing easy in his celebration of topics like "The Letters," "But He Loved His Dog," "A Christmas List for Santa," and "The Enormous Mystery of Couples." An interlude of full-color pages divides Ridl's more personal poems with a section of circus-themed pieces, adding visions of elephants, trumpets, tents, sequins, and sideshows, and the uniquely travel-weary perspectives of jugglers, trapeze artists, roustabouts, and clowns.

Practicing to Walk Like a Heron unabashedly affirms the quirky and eccentric, the small and mundane, and the intellectual and experiential in life. This relatable and emotionally powerful volume will appeal to all poetry readers.

Jack Ridl is the author of Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press, 2006), named best book of poetry for 2006 by The Society of Midland Authors, and of Losing Season, and is co-author with Peter Schakel of Approaching Literature. He is professor emeritus at Hope College, where he was named Michigan's Professor of the Year in 1996 by the Carnegie (C.A.S.E.) Foundation. More than 75 of his students are now published authors.

What a gift it is to have this impressive collection from Jack Ridl. Reading his poetry is like hearing from a neighbor who has lived his entire life with the most profound attention and care. And while that attention often enough reveals the blessings that surround him, and while he himself seems always ready and willing to bless the world in turn, Ridl walks a tightrope in his work. A degree one way or the other and he uncovers heaven on earth or a quiet hell. It's amazing to me how he can hold both realms so intimately together in one vision, frequently in the same poem. And he makes it all seem easy, his language moving subtly between the various modes of conversation, prayer, spiritual hunger, comedy, nostalgia, grief, and celebration. I truly hope we can evolve toward the quality of being these poems reveal.

– Li-Young Lee

Jack Ridl is a superstar in the realm of compassionate, transporting, life-changing poetry.

– Naomi Shihab Nye

If you don't believe you have a soul, reading this book will give you one—its soulfulness is that far-reaching, generous, persuasive, and real.

– Mary Ruefle

Most of the poems are set in his house or backyard, which could be my house or backyard, if only I’d stop to notice the wonder of it. And after reading this book, for a while, I do. That joy alone is worth the cover price. Ridl’s poem from Rattle, 'Hardship in a Nice Place,' is a good example, but the poems in this book are all that strong—which, at over 150 pages, is saying something.

– Timothy Green, Rattle

If more poets wrote like Jack Ridl, more people would read poetry. Reading a collection of poems by Ridl, you feel as if you are sitting in his living room, or across the table at a bar, or roaming through a trail in the woods, just listening to him spin tales.

– Derek Emerson, Blog Critics

A poetry volume from Jack for me is like a warm coat for body and soul, regardless of the season.

– Reklamekasper

  • 2014 ForeWord Book of the Year Award - Result: Winner of the Gold Medal in the category of Poetry
  • 2014 Midwest Book Awards - Result: Finalist in the category of Poetry