Tupelo Press, 2010
Megan Snyder-Camp's first book of poetry, The Forest of Sure Things, is a moving debut. The chapbook opens with an old tale of the loss of a child, and then weaves through the author's life concluding with the birth and early years of her first child. A rich collection, she accomplishes much in a collection of just over forty poems.
Snyder-Camp chooses language that draws the reader to the unprocessed edge of fear, loss, pain, and eventual hope. The first part, Borrowed Memory, shapes the history of the hundred-year-old tale of a family whose child was stillborn. In the second part, Tether, the author strings together the little moments of her own motherhood.
In the opening poem, "The House on Laurel Lane," the author establishes the mood. Snyder-Camp's spare words link me to the rhythm of her work:
She knew when love unwound her but not how.
Let your hair down over the briar patch,
she read to her daughter from the little golden book
the two tales sewing each other up.
By illustrating an emotional landscape, which she does throughout this collection, I cannot help but participate in her vision and language. My curiosity and humanity is piqued. Each poem leads to the next in this subtle way.
"Easement" is the last poem of the first part, the bridge between parts one and two. I find her choice fitting from the first stanza because of its tone of hopefulness interlaced with uncertainty:
She lets them tour her flagstone heart only after
the seas pull back, not on the days when the eels
leer from her windows and the car earns its fishy smell.
Those days she's on the roof waving to helicopters.
Her hands shine once the Red Cross has gone,
after the dog has been found in the pear tree
Snyder-Camp is clear in her fear of loss, fear of a long ago story repeating itself within her own body. The style and choice of words stirs authentic emotion which the reader cannot deny. This poem, these lines, prepares me for the eventual release and ultimate tethering: the bond with her newborn child.
"41 Weeks" is my favorite of the collection. It is near the end, after I had absorbed the frayed edges of a range of hard emotions in the preceding poems. Her artistry - and economy - with words to this point allowed me to become intimate with her delicate feelings about the act of creating life, and then delivering it to the world. Alive.
The room filled. My odd stillbirth poems
elbowed the machines, their skittery graph of your whale-heart
far offshore. The borrowed story keeping time.
The surgeon cut a quick, crooked line
and lifted you then from the dream of blue walls,
lifted you crying and safe, unwritten.
Here, Snyder-Camp moves the reader beyond her world. I feel the tension and the heartache. I want for the hope and the delight. I breathe a sigh of relief and joy at the finish. A sigh similar to the one I breathed when my own sons were born, "crying and safe, unwritten." She unleashes the joy - and fragility - of life in her vigilant, evocative language.
The Forest of Sure Things, released this past September from Tupelo Press, 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. This collection left me satisfied, yet seeking just one more.