Saturday, April 16, 2011

TOWN FOR THE TREES by Justin Evans

I had the pleasure of reading Town for the Trees, a book of poems by Justin Evans.  Mr. Evans holds a Master's Degree in Literacy Studies, and this latest book contains a collection of poems that were mostly set in Springville, Utah, a place that comes across in his poems as being a peaceful, quiet space where one has room to think.  Mountains, valleys, a creek and the moon hold special meaning here.

It has been a while since I've read poetry that has inspired me.  I admit I am partial to poems that immerse the reader into nature since I am currently surrounded by sirens, construction workers, and honking car horns in my home environment.  I moved to Northern Nevada 22 years ago from a big city, and back then my Nevada home was in what was called a rural community in which everyone owned livestock and kept quiet and still enough that one could hear nothing other than cows mooing softly, birds chirping, and frogs singing.  Some days I could swear that I heard butterfly wings flapping, but those days are gone now.  I have to turn to poetry to commune with nature.

Lines like "The letters N E W S were derived / from the four winds..." and "the past is a thief / escaping on the wings of blackbirds" are stated succinctly, yet contain enough power to make me pause.  You know you are reading fine poetry when you give each line a few extra seconds to sink in before moving to the next.

In the poem "Pre-Dawn:  Three Sisters", Evans writes the following stanza:

Whenever I come back to this place
after years of absence, it is the mountains
which startle me the most, their size
always shrinking in my mind
like the old memory of a broken arm.

I know how haunting it can be to return to the place of one's childhood, as I am about to embark on one such journey myself to settle my mother's estate after her passing.  The environment seems alien, yet still contains triggers to memories we thought were long gone.  Having broken my arm, along with many other injuries, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can be in so much pain one day, and barely remember the agony the next.  The intensity of life fades, and comparing that to how mountains shrink within our memory is divine.

Though Evans grew up in Utah, he now lives in Nevada and having studied and worked with Nevada poets for much of my adult life, I do see how some of his peers have influenced his writing.  It didn't surprise me when he included an epigraph from one of Gary Short's poems, as Short is one of my favorite poets and I could see similarities between their works.

I think my favorite stanza comes through in the poem "Song":

Infinite stars
piercing the deep blue of night
like needles wielded by my grandmother
to a make a quilt.

This stanza offers such a strong sense of time.  Obviously, time plays a huge role in the study of astronomy.  Scientists are always searching for clues to how long stars live, how long they have been in existence.  Being a quilter myself, I know the time and patience that is required to piece together fabric and quilt by hand.  Sewing machines speed up the process probably ten-fold or more, and I can tell you that I have been machine-piecing a bed quilt for over two years now.  It feels like there is no end in sight. Drawing the similarity between stars and not just needles, but needles used in quilting by his grandmother -- perfect in so many ways.  Perhaps the night sky is a quilt being made just for him.

In today's frantic, fast-paced society, it is rare to find moments of solitude where one can reflect on where life has taken us, how a river has changed its course, how an entire summer "evaporated in a single breath."  If you need a break, I recommend that you sit down and pick up Town for the Trees.  It will help you learn to breathe again.

For more information on this book, visit the author's website.

1 comment:

Kittie Howard said...

Gosh, what a super critique. I loved how you compared then and now without losing perspective of what's remained important. The last time I visited Las Vegas I was disappointed at far the city snaked into the desert. Having said that, the quiet area that used to surround my Northern Virginia home is no more - go five minutes from these steps and, bam!, traffic, traffic, traffic. So, this disease is everywhere. Fortunately, we have our memories - and poets.