CLOUDS CAN TREES by Taryn Andrews

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Taryn Andrews, CLOUDS CAN TREES (minutes BOOKS, 2011)

A review by Seth Landman

I was reading about barnacles one day a couple of years ago, and I learned that barnacles, because they are permanently bound to stationary objects, have the longest penises, relative to their size, in the animal kingdom. Imagine, for a moment, yourself as a barnacle. That is, imagine what it would be like to still be you but all of the sudden you are a barnacle. Consider how being a barnacle might change the way you think about other people. Imagine your sad, enormous penis reaching out to find someone.

I don’t want to speak for everyone, but for me, this feels a lot like poetry, where we are continually faced with the question of how to express outside what is inside. It’s the problem of our skin, boundary lines, and the limits of our perception. It’s the problem of true religion and trust. This chapbook, Clouds Can Trees, by Taryn Andrews, makes me think about all this stuff; her epigraph, from Whitman, speaks directly to these questions: “I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers, / And I become the other dreamers.” In dreams, we get past this problem of the fact of our separateness, and there’s a great deal of empathy in that act, in even wanting to “dream all the dreams of the other dreamers.”

The first poem in Clouds Can Trees is called “Talk to yourself or wave at other people,” and it occurs to me, now, that this is exactly the situation we barnacles find ourselves in. So it feels particularly heartbreaking to me when Andrews writes, “I just want to write about being alive and my breakup” just a few lines into the poem. Because writing is patently different than talking to oneself, but it’s also not really that different, or it is different depending on what sort of audience, exactly, you are imagining. It is, though, such an intimate thought. I feel like I am the audience. She writes, “The same birds do the same sky dive thing for forever”; she’s pointing, here, at birds, at her own perception of birds, at the entire history of the way this person looks at birds, but she does it in a way that allows room for my history too. The poem is reaching out to me, and I am reaching out to the poem.

In “Directions to the 2nd Avenue Station you are falling in love,” the ideas of love and other people start to get more expansive. Rather than “my breakup” (implying, of course, just one other person), Andrews writes,

The gates of 2nd avenue will open to a series of stationary stairs. They will move you. Numbers will tell you things. You will listen. You will feel optimistic. You will feel love for everyone you see. Your thoughts will repeat themselves. We are meeting. We are meeting. This is meaning. This is meaning.

I don’t want to overstate this barnacle thing, but: doesn’t this remind you of the barnacles? I mean, of my weird anthropomorphizing of the barnacles? I’m thinking here about being a person and how in certain transcendent moments it feels as though everything—stairs, numbers, everyone—might be communicating something to you. In this passage, Andrews draws a striking connection—one I had never considered before—between meeting and meaning. We feel the world with feelers, and poems are feelers. We have to deal with everything out there, as in earlier moments in the same poem when our speaker worries about being stabbed or gives a stranger a cigarette. We never know what’s going to happen, as in the poem “Nature,” where Andrews writes, “Every time I think nightmare, I just think nature. And nature and nature.” Nature means something like life-force; it is everything comfortable and uncomfortable, because the things that give us the most solace can also be the most upsetting. Like honesty. Like poetry.

Seth Landman‘s SIGN YOU ARE MISTAKEN is forthcoming from Factory Hollow Press in Fall 2012.