by Weston Cutter
Field Folly Snow is not perfect. In fact, the late poems of this book hang like streamers from a solid center. The center is essentially Cecily Parks’ 2005 chapbook Cold Work, a work which won the Poetry Society of America New York Chapbook Fellowship, and these poems are the most carefully crafted, the most controlled and the most compelling in Field Folly Snow. Still, the book is my favorite in a stack of recent debut collections, and its success comes not in spite of the looser, hanging parts, but because of them.
The book begins with poems whose speakers are deeply connected to nature—the speaker of “I Lost My Horse” who “looked for the horse because she looked/ safe enough to love”; the speaker of “Self-Portrait as a Rain Gauge” who considers that her “lot is split precipitate/ around a measuring stick and swallowing”; the speaker in “The Minister’s Bad Wayward Girl” and her desire to “be gardened….tamped down” like soil. The poems are individually compelling but their real contribution to the collection is in the way they depict a world of man and nature intertwined, creating a foundation for the poems that follow them.
By the book’s second section, each page seems to speak to the next in a richly rewarding way. “Dear William, the Cottonwoods are Letting Go” combines Parks’ interest in language and sound with honest, human emotion. I feel this poem much more than any that proceeds it, and I am simultaneously captivated by its vocabularly, a union of scientific and the sensory language from the very start:
As they ought to.
of cotton. Each
While the poem does not clarify the nature of the relationship between the speaker and William, the final line, the likening of the cottonwood’s strewn seeds to “A warm snow” poignantly depicts the conflicted feelings of a speaker (perhaps a lover, a parent, a sibling, a friend) who both longs for William and accepts his absence.
Other poems in this second section feel similarly personal, each speaker desperate to say something and to say it honestly. Some are narrative, some epistolary or in direct address to a subject, and they are the richest of the collection for many reasons, one of which is the ways the poems function as a group to describe a particular kind of life, a life lived with keen awareness of and reliance on the natural world, as described in the opening lines of “Trapline”: “The landscape holds you in no clouded thrall/ but holds you nonetheless.”
While this sense of the landscape holding the characters of Parks’ poems persists throughout the book, I am most impressed by this debut poet’s willingness to leave loose ends. Toward the end of the collection the poems become more frantic, more scattered, and brackets are used to section off blank space, shrugging off the kind of precision of language, the absolutes of image that come before. By the final piece, “Tecumseh and Ulysses and How Were Those for Names,” definitive characters and their emotions seem less important than the words and their sounds. It is a sort of linguistic puzzle that seems vastly different from “Dear William, the Cottonwoods are Letting Go,” though both poems show a keen interest in language. And yet, there’s an undertone of urgency here, an imprecise but compelling desire on the part of the speaker. It’s the ebb and flow of meaning in this collection, the specific set against the less defined, that makes this collection feel teased out emotionally and, in a word, whole. Field Folly Snow feels complete in a way that so many of the more cautious, more chiseled debut collections do not.
(This post was written by guest reviewer Carrie Meadows, whose writing we will all, if there’s justice in the publishing world, be reading much more of very soon)