Tried and True Ways to Fail – Nathaniel Perry

Cut the tree with a bent bow saw.
When the blade sticks in the heart
of the fallen pine, try to free
it with your gloveless hand. Seek art

in the wind’s wrestling the trees. Decide
what your children will think about something,
like difficult art up in the pines.
Or imagine them always happy and running.

Brace your strength with a foot on the trunk
to the left of the buried blade; pull
with everything in you. When you fall,
unbalanced, notice the maples are full

of color – or filling up, like a glass
of water. Everything you can see
is filling or full. The boy is starting
to crawl. The saw is still in the tree.

I have a feeling I’ll be posting a fair bit of Nathaniel Perry’s Nine Acres collection over the next few weeks. I’m mulling over it – it’s one of two collections I actually brought with me on this study abroad stint – and I’ve already found three poems I want to post. I don’t want to blow anyone’s feed up more than usual, but know that Nate Perry…he’ll be around for a while.

I find it kind of funny that both his collection and the other I brought with me are formal; that is to say, all the poetry in them has distinct structure and rhythm. Perry’s entire book is written in iambic tetrameter. It doesn’t seem forced because he’s really careful about line breaks, and I love that. I have such a hard time writing formally, but I think it’d be good to get better at it. And I am a sucker for good line breaks.

I’ve been trying to pay extra attention to the way Perry structures his poems, and how good poems are structured in general, really. It seems to me like, in this collection, he introduced an idea (related to farming, usually), then something personal but relevant, and ties them together, coming back to each image at least once. At the same time, this doesn’t really seem overbearing, you know? We’ve got this tree and the saw, and then the line about children, and then the trees again, and then sort of a revelation, and then both images. I love how this is essentially a list poem, but it comes back to these very connected ideas. And I just think that’s very nice, really, how it all flows together.

But enough about the formal bits. Well, one more thing: I think a huge part of why this works is because the language is so simple. I think if you’re going to go formal, in contemporary poetry, your language has to sort of counter balance that so it doesn’t sound all lofty and Victorian. And isn’t this just beautiful? There’s great humor in it, understated but true. I don’t even have kids and I still find that line, ” Decide / what your children will think about something,” so funny. And the simplicity of, “Everything you can see / is filling or full. The boy is starting / to crawl. The saw is still in the tree.” I want to write with this beautiful simplicity.

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