Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Garden of Verse: Poems that Keep Getting Deeper

            Poems by Tom Montag in the June issue Verse-Virtual, the online poetry journal I've been part of for a year and a half now, remind me that some poet's work just gets deeper and deeper. 
            A Wisconsin native who refers to himself as a farm boy in his essays, Tom Montag regularly publishes poems in Verse-Virtual celebrating the essential mysteries of the world we live in. What do we have, all of us, in common? We have day, night. We have sunlight, sky. Darkness, night, the stars. We have as companions, as sharers of this world, this planet -- as has become increasingly clear to me in recent years; I have a window open right now to keep an ear attuned to them -- the birds. Winter is the season in which we see birds at our feeder but do not often hear their voices. Spring is the season when their excited voices wake us a dawn. If you're like me, you go back to sleep. If you're like Tom Montag, you're up at your desk when the birds begin.
            What else? If we have pets, generally dogs or cats, we know we share the world with mammals. Since the death of our last cat, I confess the most prominent fellow mammal in my life is the urban/suburban squirrel, not the most neighborly of connections. People who have lived on farms have a far wider knowledge of animals who do not walk on two legs. I know we share the earth with the beasts of the field, but I walk warily past the klatches of cows I encounter on the public right of way in the north of England, or cutting across some farmer's field in rural Massachusetts, pretending we are all friends.
            We all share the vast kingdom of the green plants, the life forms that ultimately feed us and give us. I tell myself that my flowers are now my pets, and I collect them greedily.
            And we all, if we are truly alive, share love. Mortality, of course; that goes without saying. But the love, that sometimes needs saying.
            For all these reasons, Tom Montag's poems have long spoken to me as poems about the essence of our condition, as human beings here on earth.
            And the more of them I am exposed to, the more likely they are to snag on something inside of me and stay there.
            In the June issue of Verse-Virtual, I found Tom's poems sinking deeper and deeper. The title and first sentence alone of his poem, "Only the Few" -- "Only the few mysteries/ I am drawn to." -- has basically prompted my reflections above. What I am calling a sentence is actually a sentence fragment. It invites the reader to ask yourself 'What about the mysteries the poet is drawn to? Am I drawn to them too?' Is the poet saying those are the only topics to write poems about? Or the only sources of his inspiration?
            The poem appears to name those mysteries, but it's the pacing of the lines, the phrases, that enables us to discover that they're our mysteries too:
            "the way the darkness carves out/
             the evening ..."
            When I get to the lines "Somewhere silence. Somewhere/ the call of the red-tail..." I am totally drawn in. 
             Yes. Yes, I think, "the house closing in," that's exactly it. And then a perfect last line reaching for the stars.
            Read the whole  poem, and his others, on Verse-Virtual at
            I feel something very similar about the poem "A Bird," that begins
            "out a corner of the eye,
            lost, then, in leaves and sky."
            It happens all the time, maybe every day, and is still as the poem says, a miracle. Who are these creatures flying around, with hearts that beat like our own? The poem gives us precisely the right words for this experience: "A loveliness we can't speak/ and we walk on."
            The reader knows the ineffable instant the poet is referring to, but now we've been given words for it.
            And again, in the poem "The Dead Leave Us." That's a phrase that can end right there; or it can go somewhere. When the poet writes "The dead leave us/ their shadows" we think, 'Yes, that's it. That's what we feel.' We've had that sensation. But now, here are the words.
             These poems do what poems, perhaps alone of all human utterance or actions can do: stamp meanings precisely on our hearts.
            Find Tom Montag's poems and other wonderful poems on