Creative writing educators so often caution their students against writing poems about the moon because those poems can easily descend into cliche that doing so has become a kind of cliche. Given the content and approach to This Is Not Your Moon, it’s no surprise that Matthew Woodman has written an entire collection of poems about the moon. There is something of Charles Simic, John Berryman, and William Carlos Williams in his work, but there is something beyond these writers too, a critical eye that has anyone who reads his work questioning the basis of how we see the world. The essence of this collection is incongruity; much of it is an investigation of different instances of reification and suggesting that we should escape the falseness of our thinking.
One of the fallacious beliefs that This Is Not Your Moon returns to often is the idea of permanence. Nothing is solid. That which we base our lives upon is at best temporary, and often does not actually exist, but it’s easy to ascribe a permanence. For example in “Tidal Friction (The Moon Moves from Earth at the Same Speed Our Fingernails Grow),” he speaks to the moon:
If you won’t slacken the axis,
if you won’t arrest the greater distance
or explain the irregularities,
we can’t have you circulate the children,
we can’t have you illuminate the lovers,
we can’t have you wreath our intimacy (15).
Here, he juxtaposes the human need for regularity with the fact that nothing truly has regularity, not even the moon. There are irregularities in its orbit and it is currently moving slowly away. But the speaker of the poem demands stability from the moon, feels terrified without that stability. Of course, instability is both terrifying and a part of the human condition as he points out in “Eternal Returns” when he meditates on the death of a loved one:
Warning: Objects in the night sky are more
distant than they appear.
The same applies
to those you love (44).
Like the moon we are not permanent, and we are bound to leave whether we want to or not.
Woodman is not, however, positioning himself as someone with the answers; one of the points of the books is that we are all seeking a kind of knowledge that will never be given to us, and such is the case in the poem, “Bright Jawbreaker, I Do Salute You,” where he grapples with a question about the nature of the human experience, the fact that we do not retain the same number of bones through our existence.
At birth, we are the sum of two-hundred
By adulthood, we have
lost sixty-four, the someday plunder.
What happened to them? (10).
Not even our bodies are solid, and this lack of solidity, he finds disturbing and difficult.
This questioning gets to the root of what he is doing here. The questions he poses, about the nature of life, death and the universe, are the difficult ones that we build elaborate structures to protect ourselves from. Rather than buy into the reification meant to shelter us from existential pain and loss, he heads straight into it.
John Brantingham 9th May 2021