'The Reindeer Camps" proves that Barton Sutter is a virtuoso of form, meter and humor. Aware that metrical poems are unfashionable, he jokes of forgotten poets, "They, too, believed in metaphor and rhyme."
This collection of light verse consists mostly of nature poems reminiscing about rural childhood, praising the landscape or celebrating the seasons.
Especially lively are his portraits of animals. A mink is "quick as a fart," a woodpecker has a "lightning streak of white," and an otter "[smelts] the bones" of a walleye in his "Bessemer belly."
The description of the otter explodes with sound: "Hissyfit spitter, / Sneezer and wheezer, / Snuffling blowhard, / Why is your chatter / And sputtering blather / So humanly pleasing?"
After hearing those lines it should come as no surprise that Sutter is also a musician, half of a folk duo called the Sutter Brothers. Recently retired from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, he lives in Duluth and is an award-winning prose writer.
Sometimes his rollicking rhythm slows for tender moments: the last walk with a beloved dog or a drive in a blizzard, snowflakes "like the thousand million specks of anger, guilt, regret." He also includes a section of poems lambasting President George W. Bush that now seem unfortunately outdated.
In the long poem "The Reindeer Camps," he forgoes humor to describe the ancient ways of the reindeer herders of Siberia. These "quiet people" safeguard the natural world, knowing that "to overgraze the grass and moss / Would be a grave mistake."
According to Sutter, old ways may be out of fashion, but are still worthy of our consideration.
Elizabeth Hoover is a poet in Pittsburgh. She is at ehooverink.com.