Tree of Heaven

James McKean, Author University of Iowa Press $16 (84p) ISBN 978-0-87745-505-9
A co-winner of the 1994 Iowa Poetry Prize, much of this wriggling, writhing collection swarms with animals--fireflies, cockroaches, dogs, pigs, magpies, a pelican, a sow bear--whose activities intersect and merge with human life. When McKean anthropomorphizes (``canaries that sing for all/ they cannot have'') and, less frequently employs its opposite number, theriomorphism, ascribing animal qualities to humans, he seems to suggest that the animals have something profound to say about humans, as in the first poem, ``Fireflies,'' which concludes ``How/like us to... wander/ our whole lives, dragging a lamp/ that gives us away.'' In these poems, grouped mainly in the first section, McKean seems to attach a specific significance to the creatures, as though they were fortune cookies. More direct and crisper are the poems in the latter two parts, where human figures, often parents and children, take pride of place, e.g.,``Splitting Wood,'' ``Fire Line'' and ``Silver Thaw.'' Given such clear points of focus, McKean's mostly short lines offer up images that illuminate the human condition from within. These poems are simple, complex and moving. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
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