ESSAY STANZAS
Thomas Meyer

The Song Cave, 2015

Fusing a traditional nature poetry with contemporary ecopoetics, Thomas Meyer’s Essay Stanzas tests the great morality play of the forest. True to its title, Meyer’s book comprises four long poems with stanzas threaded together more by wandering idea than narrative. Each stanza stands alone but builds on what comes before through slight evolution in subject. All revive the tropes of the fable: human-like deer, wandering clouds, and ambitious trees falter, and we learn from their mistakes.

Though most stanzas focus on flora and fauna, Meyer’s voice in “Caught Between” is already one divided from the natural world:

The sky reaches out
to hold me.
East, west, north, south:
wide open.
But I am wrapped up in myself.

What rescues these nuggets from the ersatz intelligence of fortune cookie advice is a sharp eye toward the paradox of using nature as currency for wisdom: we often look on nature as a way of reading ourselves. That solipsism is our limitation:

This redwood tree
reaches up to calculate
how far the sky is —
his own height is his measure.

It’s precisely this tension between mankind’s use and abuse of nature that gathers energy around the stanzas, and Meyer often signals this irony. Seeing the environment only as a springboard for humanity’s existential questions, in the face of its endangerment, ushers in its demise:

The rooster wonders
“Who makes the sun
get up and do his job?”
While in the kitchen
the book lies open
to coq au vin.

Meyer’s atomized parables convey the “annihilation” that spreads when even? one ecosystem is threatened, when “flood and flow gets swallowed up / by nothing more than a man.”

Meyer’s simple, distanced language recalls the Grimm-ish tone of fairy tales and also underlines wariness of his own work:

birds used to be caught
in nets
now men not birds
are snared
in meaningless
empty shiny
language

Though Meyer sets his allegories in a world of checks and balances, rights and wrongs, lessons learned and ignored, the world the book references, it’s clear, has no gods — perhaps humanity has killed them off already. Even so, Essay Stanzas, from its first invocation (“This won’t amount to much.”), to its final poem of seasonal confusion, pleads for humility (“Nothing is any more divine / than anything else.”), for scrapping our human-centric narratives in favor of the hero-less stories of nature.