Reading To Keep Him Hidden is like watching a man tear himself free from a thick wrap of tangled vines. Working-class machismo plus alcohol plus Catholicism have woven a spirit-killing trap that our protagonist has to escape, by way of courage and imagination. The poems convey the stress of outgrowing one’s origins without betraying them. It’s a drama that Ryan Vine explores without sentimentalizing and without self-vaunting: not an easy feat. Vine hits notes of bleak elegy like those in the best dark songs by Bruce Springsteen.
Ryan Vine has given us a book of hard-won poems. These are painful and dark encounters, sometimes unrelenting in their probing of human descent. And yet, even in this deep darkness some kind of hope emerges. Perhaps that is the work of true art. Certainly it is the exalted work of the human spirit. But I think this book, wisely and beautifully, combines the endeavors of the spirit with the endeavors of art. The result is arresting. Here, pain is replaced with compassion, and grief is restored by love. And faith is involved, even if it comes with uncertainty. But that is the nature of poetry, and this is a book full of it.
The poems in To Keep Him Hidden struggle with a boyhood awash in desperation, friends who didn’t survive, the disillusionment of an entire generation (not to mention the self), and still learn how to live—not in vain, but freely and generously with compassion for the past and hope for the future. These are simply wonderful, memorable poems which will break your heart then mend it.
To Keep Him Hidden delves into masculine disappointment amid the bleak beauties of the blue-collar upper Midwest in economic decline. Ryan Vine’s world of absent fathers and aimless sons sounds bleak, too, but it is not. It’s a whole and vibrant world brought to life and lit brightly by the poet’s piercing intelligence, compassionate wit, and buoyant insinuating voice.