The Bird in the Stillness by Joe Rosenblatt
A lyrical pilgrimage through the lush forest of the Green Man and his woodland kin, Joe Rosenblatt’s latest book of poetry, The Bird in the Stillness, offers up a spiritual feast in celebration of the natural world.
The Green Man’s forest is full of spirits. From the loftiest cedar to the lowliest centipede, all life falls under the dominion and protection of He Who Is Verdant. Circumspect eyes track defiant interlopers while decaying tree stumps nurse saplings with maternal tenderness. Tree branches entwine sensuously, and leaves rustle like the intimate whispers of lovers. A bird in the stillness waits, talons sharp, preparing to make his kill.
Joe Rosenblatt’s latest collection of poems, The Bird in the Stillness, presents a forest in chiaroscuro—a delicate ecosystem held in tenuous balance by cycles of life and death, light and darkness, companionship and solitude. It provides a rich buffet of physical, spiritual and artistic nourishment for any pilgrim who cares to walk the woodland path ... and acknowledge that his warranty on breathing might be nearing its expiry.
This collection of poetry soars above, like the trees in the forest that inspired it.
For anyone who’s ever pondered the secret life of a forest or aspired to be an unseen observer among the trees, Joe Rosenblatt’s poetry collection The Bird in the Stillness: Forest Devotionals will prove both illuminating and delightful.
In many of these poems, the Green Man, a kind of forest deity invoked by Rosenblatt, is referenced. The Green Man is part guide and part alter ego, an object of study and the holder of a foreign point of view that the poems’ narrator attempts to interpret. Anthropomorphism isn’t quite the right word for this technique, which provides glimpses and fragments of the Green Man—his branches intertwining with those of other trees, reminiscent of humans holding hands—but never fully revealing him, and maintaining the sense of a mystery unsolved.
Through this lens, Rosenblatt captures the utter alienness of the forest and demonstrates that, despite our dependence and proximity, we are no longer its natural inhabitants. All of the Green Man poems, which comprise roughly eighty pages, are written in sonnet form, though rhyme is nearly absent and meter varies. This form is well chosen—the sonnet is a sturdy container for Rosenblatt’s remarkable powers of observation and imagination while providing him the freedom to stray within the its limits. The occasional repetition of certain terms—"mucilage," "foliated," and of course, "Green Man," as well as less-vegetational Rosenblatt favorites like "noggin" and "nibbled"—give a sense of consistency, in voice and theme.
Rosenblatt covers a great spectrum of emotion, from the dark reflections of "Viewing a Midday Lunch"—"In these woods even dreams are eaten by a slim garter snake. / I and the Green Man know: Life makes a meal of the living"—to the lighter tone of "Photosynthesis Motel," with its humorous wordplay and conceit—that the Green Man should find a Green Woman as his overnight companion:
Attired in wild fern, salal, and moss of emerald green
they’re greeted by a puffball at a seedy reception desk.
These poems read as variations on a theme, with a cumulative effect; each poem takes the reader deeper into the forest and immerses a bit more in its world.
Though there is no official line of demarcation, there is a shift in the book’s final twenty pages, which step away from the Green Man motif. While many still focus on nature, these poems, including the title poem, take a greater variety of forms, with several references to Ken Kirkby, a landscape painter who presumably accompanied Rosenblatt on some of his outings. Rosenblatt’s sense of humor is again evident in the book’s final poem, "What’s on Tap?," but these poems prove less satisfying, if only because they abandon the deeply hypnotic effect Rosenblatt creates to that point.
Rosenblatt’s black-and-white ink illustrations appear occasionally among the poems, a nice addition for the visually inclined. The Bird in the Stillness soars above, like the trees in the forest that inspired it.
—Peter Dabbene, Foreword Reviews
‘I find the poems charming, quirky, cynical, wry, but at the same time painfully existential and haunted by the inevitability of death. The poem of the title, short and beautifully stabbing like a shiv, took my breath away. Really bittersweet stuff; the stuff of life and death, which is, I guess, what forests ... and existence ... [are] about.’
‘In a day when any talk of our natural world becomes wearily saturated with politics, in The Bird in the Stillness, Rosenblatt’s latest collection of poetry and drawings, we are reminded of nature’s joyous and brooding temperament, its mythical qualities.’
‘Joe Rosenblatt has been a quirky and vital part of Canadian literature and art for over 50 years and his latest collection attests to how his abilities have continued to burgeon, while his unusually ectoplasmic and metamorphic phantasmagorias of rhythm and image remain powerfully consistent.... Capable of containing a wide range of emotion, these paeans to aging, trees, contemplation, loss, copulation and divinity ring with fear, sorrow, trepidation, melancholia and yes, sexy little spurts of titillating humour. Sonnets such as "A Naked Waving Hand" and "My Face" truly enter the realm of Poe-tinged horror where "sunlight had seeped away as though absorbed into a blotter" and "We each had donned a death mask, yet we were still alive." The Green Man is his faithful Virgil, a mocking presence, a reminder of mortality, an echo of the erotic. "Gilding the Sadness," "Greener" and "Obesity of Gloom" are some of the most moving pieces on depression and transformation I’ve ever read while "Camouflage," "The Rapture" and "Photosynthesis Motel" are both tender and silly tributes to uncommon desire. I hear Dickinson, George Herbert, and even Shakespeare in lines like "I’m in camouflage my dear, search beneath my skin for me," evoking Sonnet 73’s bare withered boughs, and an old man still questing for love in his life’s now-winter.’
—Catherine Owen, Marrow Reviews Blog
‘In an extended Buber-like dialogue, Rosenblatt adopts the mythical Green Man as an alter ego to embark on a phantasmagoric journey aimed at purifying a poet’s soul.’
—Sharon Abron Drache, Tidechange
‘Behind these sumptuous praises is a man in the twilight of his writing career, overwhelmed by the timeless gaze of the trees. The poet is cast, by juxtaposition, in a fleeting, ephemeral light. Each poem reveals a little more about his myriad inadequacies when in the Green Man’s mighty shadow.
‘At times Rosenblatt’s muse is cast in equally human tones, but the dominant narrative is the majesty of the Green Man beyond anything humans can achieve. This collection of poems serves as a reminder of the gossamer frailty and solemn power of the Qualicum Beach forests.’
Excerpt from book
The Green Man
A face concealed in the splendor of surrounding greenery
Leaves grow out of his nostrils, ears, mouth, and forehead—
And often I’ve met the unfriendly gaze of his opalescent eyes;
To find myself transfixed by a profile immersed in leafage.
In these dark woods the Green Man has no fixed address.
But if I can’t locate him . . . perhaps he can seek me out?
An aged wayfarer in an ill fitting jacket I can easily be found.
Unsteady in my waddling, I carry a crooked walking stick.
That twisty stick takes me to where I think I ought to go.
The feral mind, like a shadow drifts, dreamily in a forest
past families of oyster mushrooms praying on a moldy log.
I hear rustling in nearby foliage and then a whisper
beckons me to go attired in a lighter shade of green.
"We have a whole tree to ourselves," the Green Man cries.
The Bird in the Stillness is Waiting
The bird in the Stillness is waiting.
Talons honed to make the kill
and fly on a jet stream toward Oblivion
where there’s no streaming light
except for the shining in a bird’s terrible eyes.
Have you come for me, downy messenger?
This must be a dream that I’m staring in
where a bird in the stillness is waiting.
Feathers bristling, a song from hell
shrilling from its vibrant beak . . .
Yet I’m not ready to fly with you.
‘Joe Rosenblatt’s new collection is a tapestry of rich and varied charms. His whimsical excesses both delight and inspire as they have for these past fifty years. Reading this book takes us to the wild side of his life. For that I am deeply grateful.’
‘Not content to open my eyes to the world beyond the edge of my writing desk, [Joe Rosenblatt] invited me to discover a world within a world, where forests radiate green scripture, snakes move like umbilical thoughts slinking among lost apples, boas don smart neckties, anacondas are assassins for hire and housecats gaze at us with inscrutable, but probably murderous intent. Here, the earth does not shriek under the torture of the human hand, but purrs like creature content. Bees and caterpillars are deserving of odes and fish bubble forth praise. Half an egg on the lawn contains a universe of sadness, and in dreams, humans are permitted to taste the nibbly joys of eternity.’
—Penny-Anne Beaudoin, poet
‘These poems are roots and foliage, a world Rosenblatt inhabits, imaginary or not. In the dark forest there is always the light inside a tree, glowing through the bark, like Rosenblatt’s poetic voice, what he calls "that sylvan part of me". The Green Man, or Rosenblatt, lounging in a hollow of the tree.’
—Patrick Friesen, poet and playwright
The poems in The Bird in the Stillness spring from a fertile imagination. They are holy and earthy and speak of love, loss and regeneration. Beneath the fecundity and decay is a deeply moving tenderness that takes the reader by surprise. It was my voice I heard which echoed in the darkness, writes Rosenblatt. If we listen closely to these poems it is our own voices we hear.
—Eve Joseph, poet and essayist
Joe Rosenblatt is an accomplished author and artist who, over the course of a five-decade career has produced over twenty books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and visual art. He was the second poet to be published by Coach House Press, which released The LSD Leacock in 1966. Rosenblatt has since received several major awards, including the Governor General’s Award for his poetry collection Top Soil, as well as the B.C. Book Prize for Poetry Hotel in 1986. He lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
For more information please visit the Author’s website »