Guest Folio Introduction

Suzanne Matson

Though I did not begin selecting for this folio with a theme in mind, the poems I was drawn to seemed to cluster around a tactic of pairing human longing and loss to the physical presence, and now, precarity, of the natural world. Whether it’s the poet’s self-entanglement with metaphorical nature in Jahangir Hossain, or the way in which C. Dale Young represents the sea as a site of return for two people who are “like children again” as they bathe, these works speak through a natural register, though, as Jennifer Barber writes of her “alphabet of twigs,” we may not always be able to discern whether the speech is about “wholeness” or “brokenness.”

            Alexis Pauline Gumbs pairs each of her trio of poems with a photograph her mother took of her in an outdoor setting when she was very young. They all show a child reaching, grasping, and stretching to not only touch, but be one with nature—“my tiny hand/ a tree”—in an intuitive connection to the living world around her. It’s a connection that won’t always hold, as the older “girl inside keeps whispering/ not safe to love in green.”

            The poets collected here know we are parented into being by more than our actual human families. There is the “every open sky” rushing to fill maternal absence in Derek Sheffield’s poem, and the disoriented boy “waking one summer night in a meadow” in Christopher Merrill’s fragmented stanzas of trying recuperate the past. The pull of an old belonging becomes a “full-bodied” scent to the shark-hungry speaker in Will Dowd, while for the speaker searching along the shoreline in Wendy Cannella’s poem, recollection dissolves like “muck where the wrack line ends—/or begins.” 

            Using nature as a backdrop now means previewing or acknowledging loss. With 21st-century uncertainty, any notion of permanence is illusory, as Nancy Dickeman reminds us through the image of the candled forest where, “Out of nowhere, winds flare, a spark catches.”

            These poems all have different shapes, timbres, and aspirations, yet in their very variety they constitute a field, like wildflowers springing from a common ground. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did. 

Suzanne Matson

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