Thursday, May 5, 2011

Not Letting Go of National Poetry Month: Justin Evans' Latest Book

I can't seem to let go of National Poetry Month.  I've been reading Justin Evans' latest book, Town for Trees, and while I don't have Dave Bonta's technical skills, so I won't be posting an audio podcast, I'm doing an interview with Justin via e-mail.  I'll be posting the interview in two parts next week, likely on Wednesday and Friday.

If you haven't bought a copy of Justin's latest book, go here right now and buy it.  Even before I read the poems, I fell in love with the book design:  creamy pages that are heavy, readable text, great cover photo (taken by Justin himself).  The poems are worthy of the beauty of the book design.

The poems circle around a particular town and the surrounding landscape of a place in the U.S. west.  It's not a desert landscape, as I think of it, because there are trees and rivers.  But the depictions of the landscape are so vivid that the landscape becomes almost a character itself, often upstaging the humans in the poems.  The opening poem, "In Twilight," foreshadows these intertwinings:  "Together we both migrate, one man and one river, / each of us bound to accumulate with our own kind / where we are certain to find a place to stop and sleep."

Many of us will be familiar with the human characters in these poems, the grandparents, the inhabitants of small towns.  I loved the poem "The Way It Goes," which describes small town deaths in two sections.  I loved the multi-poem sequence, "Hunting Chinese Pheasants," which talks about shotguns and the people who use/misuse them.

But I love the landscape poems even more, with the brooding mountains, the marauding rivers, the silent highways that slice through the landscapes.  I read these poems as I was cradled by the Appalachian mountains, a homeplace of sorts for me, a very different scenery than the one described here.  However, I felt like I knew those landscapes in the poems.  I thought about this fact as I read, "After remembering the Rocky Mountains Are New, Relatively Speaking."  The poem talks about the incremental nature of change in geological time:  "Each shrink inches per century, eroded / by the constant ebb and flow of rain / and the busy companionship of wind."  The poem contrasts this almost cheery version with the human attitude:  "We choose to believe that when a portion / is cut from us we can no longer be whole."

As I was reading these poems, with their almost elegaic tone that celebrates and mourns what has been lost, I thought about younger generations of poets who will come after us.  Will they write these same kind of poems?  After all, we're in a period of homogenization, when so many towns look the same, with their SuperWalMarts and chain restaurants.  Or will those chains be the very things that will be missed and mourned?

These poems ultimately offer hope and consolation.  The poem "Advice For Your Last Night on the River," offers a fine example:

"What have you got to lose?  The day will be long
and full of possibility, and you are still sleeping
while the aspen trees whisper to you,
singing to you all night your family history." 


Kathleen said...

Sounds wonderful!

Justin Evans said...

Thank you for this! I am flattered by your kind words.