Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Mark Richardson
Dr. James Ferreira
Dr. William Olsen
Many of the poems in this collection are set in the vast woods and along the Lake Superior coastline of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Others take place in and around the poet's remote cabin in northern Idaho where the Selkirk, Bitteroot, and Cabinet mountain ranges converge. However, they all take as their definition of wilderness the complete external beyond the individual consciousness, including the body, other people, and the decaying cultural landscape, as well as vistas of yet unmolested nature. The poems chronicle an ongoing attempt to occupy the borderlands of faith between imaginative will and allegiance to the world, that is, between separation and participation.
Structurally, a number of the poems are compressed, brief lyrics that notice the moment as a point of entry in the flow of time. These poems attempt to expand into, rise from, and speak for a continuous life. There are several traditional narrative pieces in the collection, a few that are even written in prose form. Within the book's larger dialectic between event and articulation, the modifying imagination acts subversively in such poems, under the manifest allegiance to story. The collection's most ambitious poems follow the path of thought concurrent with the course of sensation, torquing experience against imagination, memory, and emotion.
The desire to overcome (or at least comprehend) the isolating effects of imagination and autobiography expresses itself in the poems' gestures toward other people. Some poems are addressed directly to the reader or specific individuals and question, in their own ways, whether loss is the loneliest of human conditions or the basis for all human love. Other poems participate in community by speaking directly for that community, fluctuating between the first person singular and the first person plural as isolation is eclipsed by a pervasive sense of inclusion. What is common throughout the collection is a represented history of the poet's ongoing struggle to achieve connection with other people (and, for that matter, grizzlies, aspen trees, junked cars, snow, and mountains) while remaining the authentic, individual voice that speaks the poems.
Johnson, Jonathan, "Mastodon, 80% Complete: Poems" (1997). Dissertations. 1627.