Denise Newman
Human Forest
Berkeley: Apogee Press, 2000

Human Forest begins with "The Pact," a poem that initiates the reader into a world where

bodies know better
trees are flesh and not spirit

While the piece may seem to replicate old dichotomies of mind vs. body, with further thought, it aims to disregard these categories altogether. The pact is an unspoken agreement between Newman and the reader to relax and let the wash of filmic images and discrete encounters that follow strike the senses and simply coexist within the work.

Reminiscent of Oppen in this heavily peopled collection, "Eyes look out of windows and see eyes." Newman shows us the erotic, the daily, the mundane, the essential, in gestures that we recognize, often with a graphicness that compels.

Girls wipe themselves
arched over holes
front to back
as if petting mice

We are surrounded with the goings on of the planet: "one part want/one part memory," "morning newspaper around disasters," "pancakes and elastic waistbands." While the book’s title and the traffic of the work beg for a forest for the trees reference, close up the whole is still somehow sharply in focus. Where the "Earth is a gentle panting thing to eat," the poetry and those within it respire at their pace as if unseen. "without a moral" we witness and participate in these events. We are called to meet them without presumption, without judgment.

What Human Forest is perhaps most adept at is eliciting and remarking on the personal responses we bring to the page and the recognition of ourselves in their unraveling.

I’m writing you into the poem and it’s
not even you so don’t be afraid

Recently, I asked a friend’s advice about writing reviews. SR replied, "You’re being yourself and reading a book." This is Newman’s pact precisely.

– Dana Teen Lomax