Fearn by Linda Dove
Cooper Dillon Books, 2019. 46 pp.
Reviewed by Naoko Fujimoto
It always starts with fear. Isn’t that what is
at the bottom of every well, which is a story
told with water but is really about the rope-
puller or the face in the skim of the bucket.
The body always begins with a short object.
A gun or a bird. Perhaps an idea.
In the above passage from Fearn by Linda Dove, the speaker welcomes the reader into the deep woods from which there is no quick escape. Every step reeks of fear—as if a lilac, or any sort of innocent sapling rooted in soil—could at any moment grow uncontrollably into a massive forest. The speaker flounders through the mass; perhaps to find a way to breathe in this tangle of fear, but hope constantly slips through her fingers.
Perhaps it is no accident that the poems in Fearn reference trees more than twenty times (fearn means alder-tree in Old Irish). Trees are a recurrent motif, used to embody fear in its various forms. Consider the following poem titles:
“Fear Is a Walk Through Immovable Trees”
“Fear Is a Fence of Trees Seen from a Field”
Dove’s list of fears would resonate with any reader: a father’s impending death, the end of a marriage, becoming a single parent. Her poems invite the reader to meditate on fear in surprising and novel ways.
It frankensteins you forever. You leave
the marriage or he does. The result is
you are now a new creature, only half
a mother to your daughter.
Ultimately, there are no easy exits from this forest of fear—which to me is the most courageous thing about this collection. In contrast with her last chapbook (This Too), Fearn focuses unflinchingly on the darker underbelly of being human.
On land, it is a thing that thrives among the trees,
to nuthatch down, to creeper up, where even bark sounds an alarm
out of a feral parrot that once lived with a dog. Now you take yourself
off the hook of language that wrote you into the forest as an oracle
because you are not an oracle, though you lie down on the forest floor.
In Dove’s collection, we are constantly reminded that life is what it is and that isolation is unavoidable. In one of the last poems in the book, we are confronted with the difficult question:, what if the best exit is behind us, requiring us to get lost in the forest yet again? If asked, would we accept this tree of chaotic bouquets?
Fear can stretch past noun and verb. Fearly, we fear.
Fearnestly. Fearlorn. Fearest. Fearce. Fearthest. Fearward.
Naoko Fujimoto was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. She was an exchange student and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University. Her forthcoming poetry collections are Mother Said, I Want Your Pain, winner of the Shared Dream Immigrant Contest by Backbone Press (spring, 2018), Where I Was Born, winner of the editor's choice by Willow Books (spring, 2019), and Glyph:Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory by Tupelo Press (winter, 2019). She is an editor and fellow at RHINO.