The Forest of Sure Things by Megan Snyder-Camp, Tupelo Press, North Adams, Massachusetts, 2010. Review by Debrah Lechner. Poetry.
Structurally, the sequence of poems in The Forest of Sure Things follows the story of a family in the small town landscape of the Northwest coast as they try to locate their place in the world, their place among others and to create a home with each other. Ultimately, the real landscape is the quest to feel at home in one's own skin. The fierce beauty of sea and sky and earth merge with the always incomplete longing to apprehend what it means to be human. This longing is offered with radiant imagery and tender humor. The result is moving and memorable.
The opening poem, “Sea Creatures of the Deep,” acts something like a preface to the story being told. The poem introduces the real landscape of the sea and corresponds to the very beginning of human life, evoking our dimly remembered existence within the inter-relatedness of the whole in which we act as individuals. Though not addressed to a deity, one of the emotive elements of the poem is similar to a hymn of awe and gratitude: “O sockeye O rock sole O starry flounder / O red Irish lord O spiny lumpsucker.”
The antique "O" is both appropriate to the ageless creation of which the poet sings, as well as an introduction to the sweet amusement that acts as a foil and accent to the lyricism of this poet's work . Although this tone continues through the poem, we also immediately meet the primary conundrum of how to find an ecological niche to survive in:
Dear threespine stickleback, sweet broken-backed shrimp─
hear the dreaded voices from the balcony. You're the blind
taking the bull by the horns. You're snow on a stick,
a stuck jukebox, a ribbon-swamped trike. O gum boot,
O lemon peel nudibranch─do not fear the leafy horn-mouth;
dogwinkle and moon snail walk the floor and burn their bridges.
Through the abundant detail of various species, Snyder-Camp invokes both the existence of the individual and the context of the group. Note again how the disarming, wry humor co-exists with the fear and danger necessarily produced by living in the world. They are a symbiosis within this poem.
Lonely whitecap limpet, days are not true. You stand on one foot,
And we brush past. To live a life is not to walk across a field.
Pity the ghost shrimp, heart on his sleeve, or the glassy sea squirt,
Run through with tears. O to have gathered no moss, to know a clam's
muddy joy. You shut with a snap, you blur with silt, you poke
among the barnacles. A bunch of one-trick ponies, even brave wolf-eel.
Finally, Snyder-Camp closes this poem with what, to me, is a short meditation on how little fear can do to protect an individual, and the purpose of poetry and art: “Cornered, the plainfin midshipman sings when afraid. / They say it fears only the elusive cloud sponge.”
And now I have quoted the entire poem. I have done so because this poem is brilliant and pleasurable to read; it is even a pleasure to type.
There are many more pleasures that await the reader in this volume. I think the quote that she places after this initial poem summarizes her intent in this work: "There ought to be one place you thought about and knew about / And maybe longed for─but never did get to see."
Megan Snyder-Camp has been given awards from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Espy Foundation, Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and the Helen Riaboff Whiteley Center.
You can purchase this book through the Tupelo Press website here or through Amazon.com here.