slipping

Tom Morgan, “V.” from “Slip and Field”
ecopoetics volume 1 page 83

Coincidence – I have a copy of “Slip and Field.” I picked it up for $5 in Left Hand Books in Boulder last fall. It’s a basic chapbook format, with eleven poems numbered I through XI, each paired with a field note. It also contains a number of black & white images. Why did I buy this? I became interested in Tom Morgan’s work due his co-editorship of For the Time Being: The Bootstrap Book of Poetic Journals (Bootstrap Press 2007). He was also one of the readers I went to see in the Buddhist-oriented poetry reading at the Rubin Art Museum last year.

It is a good practice to look at poems in their original environment. The poem seems very different as a one-page entry in a journal vs. as one of eleven in “Slip and Field.”

The field notes contained in “Slip and Field” are from a notebook kept by Tom’s sister Kim Fluetsch while she was working as a field biologist near Barrow, Alaska. I was interested in the idea of starting with notes and reaching for poetry as the premise of this book. But the poetry doesn’t grab me. I bought it for the sense of connection, not for the content.

So what is the problem? Field notes seem dry to me. Ecopoetics has an interest in careful observation of the natural world. Naming, identifying, documenting. This is not enough to make poetry, maybe not enough of a jumping-off point for poetry.

The poems are primarily six stanzas, four lines each. They “slip” all over the place, starting with one observation and moving the same sentence on towards another. Different times, places, people, quotations, seasons, geographies. I am left with a shifting sensation, disconnected, as though I had an attention disorder.

Do I expect poetry to make a consistent, obvious connection, a direct appeal to some imagined emotional center within me? The poems make me feel tired, and I start to wonder whether I really like poetry at all.

Nevertheless, I do like chapbooks, and I like people that are making the effort.

This is my favorite phrase in “V”:

… observation fissures
into birds again …

As often happens to me when studying poetry, this phrase seems to compress everything I’m trying to say here into five short words. The phrase echoes the premise of the book, how the poems within it operate, and the reaction I’m having to the whole enterprise.

Maybe I need my poems to be short.

Should I be writing about birds covered with oil?

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