Many thanks to those who stopped by to comment after Friday's post. I spent much of the weekend in recovery mode and am feeling refreshed and energized today. Now begins the long haul of seeing C. through the end of his semester, as he has the more grueling schedule of a high school teacher.
And there is my segue to today's book: Justin Evans' new collection Town for the Trees. Like C., Justin toils for little reward or recognition as a high school instructor. While I admire the work and dedication of all my poetry friends, those who teach at the K-12 level get a bit extra from me.
By way of disclosure, I first "met" Justin when he accepted one of my poems for Hobble Creek Review, his online journal that publishes poetry with a sense of place. If you aren't reading this journal regularly, you should be!
I know this is a long intro to my actual response to the book (my father-in-law calls it 'going round by Laura's house'), but I hope you'll indulge me a moment longer. I was fortunate enough to read the manuscript for this book a year or two ago, and I must say, I'm thrilled for Justin that the manuscript has become a book, and a beautiful book at that. If being a husband, father, teacher, editor, and poet weren't enough, Justin also takes amazing photographs. Foothills Publishing put together a gorgeous production, including one of Justin's photos on the cover, that exemplifies all the best qualities of the printed book: heavy stock cover, pages with a heft that will bear up over time, and a font that is readable without being distracting. Yum.
And double yum to the poems inside. Given that Justin is a poet of place, it's probably no surprise that I connect with his work, although his place is quite distant from mine. Justin writes of the west, of Utah and Nevada to be precise, but he also writes from a rural landscape whose people I certainly know. The poems in this collection exemplify the best in landscape poetry, a close connection to the land that goes beyond mere description and widens into meditations that teach us all about what it means to be alive in this one particular way on this one particular piece of land. Given that the poems here coalesce around the city of Springhill, Utah, where Justin was raised but no longer lives, there is a heavy thread of memory, family, and distance woven throughout the book. The speaker of the poems attempts to measure out his life and make sense of his heritage.
Many of the poems take place at the beginning of the day or its close, times when the mind wanders and dreams. Here is a sample of titles that show this:
Dawn Psalm, Salt Flats
When It's Dark
Poem for West Mountain on the First Warm Evening of the Year
Pre-Dawn: Three Sisters
And here's the beginning of the poem "Nevada Wildlife."
Driving south in the pre-dawn Nevada desert
on a two lane road, I measure the distance between
my car and oncoming headlights in heartbeats.
The poem closes like this.
A patchwork of crows scatters in the early morning sky
like a shotgum blast. Trapped on the road I can only
look at them one way:
The past is a thief
escaping on the wings of blackbirds.
The opening of this poem exemplifies the speaker throughout the book, a man consumed by the distance between places in the west, those wide-open spaces, but also the distance between people and memory. There is that age old theme of time sliding out from beneath us and our attempts to record and remember. The ending of the poem elevates it from just another driving poem to something more. There is the threat of the shotgun (which shows up in more than one poem) and the sense of the speaker's entrapment in his own life. This melancholy haunts the book from beginning to end.
As Justin knows, my favorite poem in the book is "Hunting Chinese Pheasants," a sequence poem with a dedication to Hyrum Lester Evans and Wayne Harrington Evans. It begins with a startling two-line section that I'll leave for you to discover on your own because it's so good I don't want to spoil the discovery for you, dear reader. Section two begins, "The narrative of my grandfather's shotgun / hides within the upstairs bedroom closet" and we are off on something that is only loosely a narrative. There are stories of family members lost to suicide by gun or gun accidents and a section of make & model of guns, including serial numbers and gauges and wood stock. The sixth and final section begins with this breathtaking moment: "Somewhere between youth and the world outside / I lost the rush of birds in flight." Wow.
I'll leave you with the opening of another favorite of mine, "Advice for Your Last Night on the River."
Sleep. Drift where the river takes you
never opening your eyes until you are sure
night has passed into morning. Leave your
left hand in to pull rudder duty, slicing
into the cool black water a furrow where fish
will approach, looking to feed on May flies
instead finding your fingers.
Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book TodayTown for the Trees
Foothills Publishing, 2011