Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cannot see the poem for the trees

"The Man Tree", a poem by Stanley Moss recently published at Slate, tackles the problem of human beings imagining themselves in Nature. That is , not as a part of Nature, but as Nature Itself. This an interesting premise, a philosophical trench war in the making, but Moss can't seem to step back far enough to see the essentials ; he cannot see the poem for the trees.Stanley Moss is a man late for a train, grabbing a suitcase at random from a closet in disarray and then grabbing clothes and travel accessories at random, cramming them into each surviving crevice and cranny of the luggage piece's cramped capacity. 

The point he seems to be driving away with this serial pictogram, that Humans have the conceit that they are Nature, that Nature's assets exist to make them healthier, stronger, happier, that Nature itself, divorced of Human vanity, is only an eternal process of birth and death that belongs to no single one of it's creatures--is obscured and , buried , smothered by an overdone analogy.

Moss loses clarity in this general scheme of associations; the shift from third person to first person voice is jarring rather than expansive. This might have been an attempt to introduce another voice or subtly introduce another voice into this mixture, but without a cue , like italics or at least quotation marks to indicate that there another layer of significance is being introduce and that we're to read longer, deeper into the talk of trees, branches, mountains and conditions of ownership, this poem lapses not into obscurity (a curse as well as a compliment for a poet) but rather into incoherence.


The first person voice also works against the poem's initial quality, which is oracular, sage , an old teacher telling lessons in parable form.Might the Sage suddenly be pointing a staff at a rapt listener while he raised his point, personalizing the lesson? Could he suddenly be addressing himself in a third person fashion after Caesar, Henry Adams and Norman Mailer in order to address his own failings against the lessons he's trying to get across? Perhaps, but given the busily poeticized incidentals we have--more special effects than writing that's especially effective --the interpretation becomes more interesting, more poetic than the poem itself. Returning to this poem after a moment to ponder what isn't provided makes this work's vacuity more obvious. It's an empty box, really, and it's not zen thing at all. 


What Moss attempted was to isolate a fleeting perception, I think, but rather than convey in briefer, sharper images, he instead talks it too death by mounting an argument. So this poem suffers for the comprimise--to exclamatory to be a thing convincingly seen or felt, too brief to be compelling or even interesting as an philosophical insight.

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