The Forest of Sure Things
by Megan Snyder-Camp
“Sometimes a book of poems can hit so hard that it takes time before I’m willing to talk about it. I’ve picked up The Forest of Sure Things by Megan Snyder-Camp and let it carve its way into my thoughts, then let it go, then picked it up, again and again. It’s the kind of book that both wounds and binds.” —Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books
*Winner of the Tupelo Press / Crazyhorse Award for an outstanding first book
The Forest of Sure Things is a layered sequence of poems set in a remote, historic village at the tip of a peninsula on the Northwest Coast, near where Lewis and Clark encountered the Pacific. A pair of newlywed drifters has arrived and settled there, starting the town’s first new family in a hundred years. When their second child is stillborn, the bereft family unravels and un-roots themselves. Megan Snyder-Camp’s poems reveal — like the shoreline exposed by a neap tide — an emotional landscape pressed upon and buckling under the complications of grief and the difficulties of language.
With hypnotic, incantatory phrasing and imagery and an innovative approach to chronology, Snyder-Camp tells the story of the grieving couple, then dramatizes the impact of this enigmatic story on her imagination, her artistic practice, and her own new beginnings in married life and parenthood.
Based in part upon a brief, true story she was told, Snyder-Camp’s mysterious yet uncommonly compelling poetic sequence will draw the reader as if along a current pulling through the book. Acknowledging the importance of Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Snyder-Camp has spoken of her fascination with where language frays, as we try and use “story” to create what we remember and see where we are. What happens in a place, or a family, or a body, when time catches, or stops?
Advance praise for Snyder-Camp’s first book:
Megan Snyder-Camp’s poems seem to emerge from the deep well of our common experiences. Years of attention were required to call into being this Forest of Sure Things. That we feel her world as our own is the poet’s gift to us, given over with wonder. In this book we find the authenticity and care we too often forget we need from poems, inflected with its own version of grace.
—Carol Ann Davis, judge for the Tupelo Press / Crazyhorse Award
Megan Snyder-Camp’s poems, like mosaics, are built of curious and gem-like pieces: stand close and they’re entrancing; take a few steps back and they reveal a sweeping, vaster movement of mind. With a quiet magical realism and audible adoration of language, Snyder-Camp builds an intensely personal yet clearly narrative frame. With a documentarian’s eye (and a wonderfully inventive, graceful sense of form), she gazes at our deepest fears and embraces the insistent beauty of the new.
2010 ForeWord Book of the Year Finalist
Compact Disk, Compact disk with book, Paperback
Sea Creatures of the Deep
O sockeye O rock sole O starry flounder
O red Irish lord O spiny lumpsucker
Dear threespine stickleback, sweet broken-backed shrimp—
hear the dreadful 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.
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 barnacles. A bunch of one-trick ponies, even brave wolf-eel.
Cornered, the plainfin midshipman sings when afraid.
They say it fears only the elusive cloud sponge.
The marriage ran under their skin, a rash, or maybe
all that red wine, luminescent cocktail hours
in which lost books were rediscovered, or just a rash,
a reaction sending out runners across her chest,
a vine, something close, ruby scarves coming back
into fashion, their son coming back
from school, from the yard, but now, dinnertime
and the family parted, split houses, her ex and his anger
spread down the long hallway of their house
and into the windows of her new apartment, their daughter’s doubled
beds, her doubled face in family portraits that double
in frequency, a family set down and another, this dinnertime
and more red wine, our faces flush with love and sympathy,
the mother decides to see the son again, and so
our doubled flashlights giving us heaven and earth,
all of it safe or at least unmoving, the tall fence
her ex built to hide the little grave, to guard the lot
in this registered historic district (all of the houses
bear their stories on a plaque, their first stories,
run-on, this little town with no street lights, just moon,
cedars), the tall fence behind which is the yard, blue,
in this yard no marker stone and under this stone
their son’s everything, no double,
Forgive us our helplessness. Forgive us our horses.
Forgive us looking back for a flash of light
tunneling its way home, forgive us our flinching
as we reach towards clams held open. Forgive us the sound
of our digging. Forgive us our talk of marriage
as the old men bear down into the sand, fingers blue
and lonesome. Nothing in this blue
aches like they must, these men solitary horses
in an open field, withdrawing from their marriages
like clams in the dark, the whale eye of their wives’ flashlights
beaming down. The boats their hearts sound
in heavy water: lurch, flinch.
For three days clams climb these numb hands, flinch
into the day, swell thick-tongued. Out of the blue
and into onion bags on each man’s hip, a clicking sound
as they open to each other, stunning as the cock of a horse
reaching blind into the salty, stinging light.
Let our son go unnamed, let him have this marriage.
Not his hollow we flinch from, not marriage.
This path swallowed under the new sound.
Our church was all brick, no name on it
and no stained glass. Every few years
a new preacher took over and tried to make us sing.
One told us Wile E. Coyote’s lifelong quest
for the Road Runner was like us hungering for Jesus.
He said we all know Coyote never gets
the Road Runner. We said that’s right. But no.
No, my friends: one time, Coyote
gets exactly what he prayed for. That skippety
Road Runner gets fat on radioactive birdseed
and this seed is the seed of Godliness, our Road Runner
big as a skyscraper. And Wile E. Coyote’s dedication,
his constant prayers for this one thing, his need
to hold the baby Jesus in his own hands,
to not have to take it on faith—he gets what he wants.
That’s right. Wile E. Coyote catches up
with the Road Runner, who’s now a thousand times
his size. He grabs hold of the Road Runner’s leg
with his tiny little hand. He’s caught him.
Coyote never thought this would happen. He’s built
his whole life around this one goal. Put himself
out of work is what he’s done, my friends.
Our Coyote holds up a little sign
saying “now what?” We waited.
Then one Sunday the preacher’s gone, a stranger
in his place, wearing his robes. The fan
on high, lilies asea. One of you, he shouts, is free.
One of you will not have to pay the piper.
One of you will walk this earth and you shall not
stumble and you shall not thirst. One of you
is lost and you shall not be found. We left,
each one of us. Some did come back. Some
only went as far as the laundry line before missing
the feel of slippers on carpet. Some watched the sky
that night and took comfort in the blinking radio tower.
Some flew. There was so much to be undone.
Sunday Nights at 8 / 7 Central
Recorded, our lives run forward
and so I carry this fear of sudden words:
as a girl I’d type telegrams on the keyboard
of our dark computer to let aliens know I was no threat,
here’s where I am, this house, this room, this highway:
stop I would say to avoid pressing enter—that silent machine
let me keep typing while my father mowed the lawn, his young head
marking our place from the sky, my words melting
into song, into dust, all of it I know I’ll never need, I’ll never use up,
my useless words: hello stop today I wore my blue shirt stop imagine:
my telegrams safe with the aliens, no film
to show us ugly as we were, no one
to do a thing. The uselessness of murder clues, standing water
a melted icicle, constellations above a body
marking the spray of blood on a headboard,
this useless river
of solutions, this burr
in my heart, these backspaced calls.
Sometimes a book of poems can hit so hard that it takes time before I’m willing to talk about it. I’ve picked up The Forest of Sure Things by Megan Snyder-Camp and let it carve its way into my thoughts, then let it go, then picked it up, again and again. It’s the kind of book that both wounds and binds.
—Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books
The Forest of Sure Things is a debut volume almost without missteps: each rereading unlocks new facets and brings greater pleasures to the surface.
—Kate Middleton, Sidney City Poet
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.
—Debrah Lechner, Hayden’s Ferry Review blog
The Forest of Sure Things … is a magnificent first work. Those who enjoy the poetry of Sharon Olds or Margaret Gibson will find this collection valuable and intriguing. Megan Snyder-Camp offers a personal glimpse of the darker corners of womanhood and motherhood achieving richness with precise language and considered line breaks.
—Christina Marie Speed, Literary Mama