Review of 88 Maps by Tanner Lee

Rob Carney continues the Emersonian discussion of what is nature by examining its present and future role in suburban America. This ruminative book of poems presents itself as a map with:

 

            I know about maps, though:

the way they all start somewhere,

how they picture the in-between rises

and valleys—

the roof lines and kindling

and armoires and cats’ bones—

but always arrive at the ocean, stars, or underground

whichever way we go.

Carney organizes his collection like shingles on a roof, with each section and poem overlapping each other, continuing the song. There are in-between rises, where Carney removes the reader from the music of nature by directly addressing legislators and urban renewal. Each ebb and flow of the rise and valley further the funeral procession of nature, which Carney not-so-subtlety calls attention to in his handful of section poems separated into each part of the ritual: processional, arrival, burial, and recessional.

Carney conducts our navigation through the map of nature by dividing his collection into five sections: departures, directions, no return address, home appraisals, and arrivals. In departures, Carney gives us the suburban map with roof lines, kindling, armoires and cats’ bones. Then, he directs wolves into our dreams—“they’re a sign that something’s coming / a message you need to be still inside to hear.

Is Carney part of the last generation of nature poets? He speaks of nature like a long divorced wife whose echo lives in the daily routine, but will soon be phased out by something cheaper and skinnier. In “Every Place I’ve Ever Lived is Gone,” Carney bids adieu to Lafayette, Spokane, and “the field by my house where the snow piled deep / where a snow owl passed so silently and low // it changed my idea of ghosts—” As he travels more west,

 

Freight trucks are too few to bother me much,

and wind off the river cools the hood down.

I can stop on the shoulder and sit there still

while stars fill every inch of night.

 

At his point in the discussion, nature is something that will always be there. Sometimes it is necessary to pull the car over and take in the stars.

The fulcrum point of the collection is in section of prose poems, if you could call them that. “Undercurrents” and “Dinner Date” find the dark comedy in nature’s nostalgia and perturbation. The attitude towards nature shifts from a place to find beautiful truth to a place to preserve and cherish in a backyard.

He wrestles the question of whether or not the best way to preserve nature is to leave it alone. In “Tool Shed, Workshop, Fully Fenced Backyard,” Carney teaches his son about the outdoors. “I’d measure me holding up things for him to touch, / saying This is a pine cone, Jameson. This is a leaf.” Maybe nature should be preserved in each developed backyard, or “Maybe, like angels, they belong to no one. / Maybe wilderness is an answer from the sky.”

 


Tanner Lee lives in Ogden, Utah, and studies at Weber State University. His writing has appeared in Compulsive Reader and Hobart, and is forthcoming in FRiGG Mag and Lost Sparrow Press. You can email him at tannerlee08@gmail.com

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