A Tree, a Spoon, and Old Books
Woodnote Is an Expansive Conversation with Nature and the Dead
Unless you're dealing with a poet who strives for claustrophobia—the clenched, white-lipped interior life of some of T. S. Eliot's work, for instance—the best collections have an expansive air to them. Christine Deavel's new collection, Woodnote (Bear Star Press, $16), feels especially airy. First, there's the design of the book: It's squarebound, with plenty of blank space on every page. Second, there's the observational aspect to her poetry, which makes the whole thing feel like a leisurely stroll through the woods.
Woodnote is interested, before anything else, in birds and flowers and trees. Nature poetry is almost impossible to get right, but Deavel's lingering gaze is up to the job. A small white clover in her hand is "an implement or a lament." "The starchy yarn of spring" gets everywhere, a "shallow, insecure" nest is the only trace Deavel can find of a "watchful and shy" least bittern.
Deavel's mind wanders around in great, generous circles until it finally comes back to the needs of the body. The forest reminds her of her own imperatives: "In the soup pot, the wood is a tree again/and finds its water,/and its little bit/of sustenance/from the garlic and ginger." (Deavel is especially interested in wood, and different kinds of wood. This shouldn't be a surprise; as co-owner of Wallingford's poetry-only bookshop Open Books, she's made her life's work from the care and commerce of transmogrified wood.) Time begins to intrude—"The ring of numbers behind the lens/is a wake in a still pond,/the drop of the stone when time started."—and it's time to go home.
And once you arrive at home, it's time to curl up with an old book. The last segment of Woodnote is made up of Deavel's thoughts on 50 years' worth of journals she inherited from "a distant relative" named Sarah. Thinking about this woman she's never known, her musings take her on a different kind of journey. Deavel and Sarah are very different, but they do share a love of books, albeit very different kinds of books. "A hard text tells me/not to seek comfort ever/for that is not how the soul/is shaped to fruition./Or is that the easy text?" Or are those texts—the hard and the easy—really the same thing? It depends on what you're willing to put into them, and who you're willing to take with you on your wanderings.