Cyberwit.net (October 25, 2021)
Available at Amazon
Imagine a wry resignation to the inevitability of death, time, and change. A calico moment of enlightenment when cat jumps in lap at the strike of a gong. Imagine a morbid fascination with spirals; the spinning of galaxies, hurricanes, dishwater circling the drain. Imagine finding a balance between determination and despair with poetry as the medium for the expression of all these things. Now imagine a book of poems in hand, I Garden Weeds, by Ethan Goffman. This collection contains all these imaginings and more.
In six sections, Mr. Goffman takes us on a journey through his mind to resonate with many of the thoughts and imaginings that ring through our minds…
The Earth Is God’s Backyard
Oh, the Humanity!
Me, Myself, and a Few Others
Metaphysics of Poetry
Oh No, Not More Nature Poems!
Through each of these he follows a progression that is familiar to man (and poets); contemplating the big questions, the dirt questions, the people questions, self-questions (with a fun little segment on poetry; its origins, its foibles when approached by us unwitting poets), and more from the dirt/origins/essence/responsibilities we share as denizens of this deep…
In “Mother Kali, Destroyer of the Multiverse, Comforts Me Who Is Callie Who Is Shiva Who Is Comforting Me,” he blends cat with cosmology:
We cannot escape
rubbing against I
purring and soothing
tiny circle of life in my lap
She springs up
startled by a distant gong
disappears into the multiverse
leaving bloody skidmarks
in our soft flesh
He divulges more of this in “The Earth Is the Center of the Universe.” Zen-like in character; our beginning is subjective, perception, too. He writes:
Yet we, ourselves, our contemplating selves
do not exist, did not exist
Till certain chemical process
spun out of god knows what hell
created us from nothing
allowing us to create
the Earth, the Earth, the Earth, the Earth, the Earth
Do we create by the mere act of perceiving? Hmmmm. Great question! Why not bring these questions to the poet, himself? Good idea! So, we did…
MH: Ethan, you have a lifetime of experiences and observations in this collection that take us into many areas of question and answer (I think more questions, than answers). You address some of the “heady” concepts around perceptions of reality; from nothing to everything, zero to eternity. It feels like you settle on the hole in the middle, a sense of disconnectedness rather than a concrete cosmology; presented as a rational conclusion to the irrational realities that challenge our need for definitive answers on the meaning of life. There is a strange comfort in that. Tell us about this, how have you come to this?
Ethan: The answer is that I really don’t know—the poems speak much better than I can. I certainly don’t have answers and indeed that’s part of my point. I don’t think anyone does. So maybe I am just playing with concepts, but the play can be enjoyable, and perhaps that’s itself the point. I don’t know if it comes through in the book, but I do believe in a spiritual order to the universe. But it’s beyond human cognition. Or perhaps some advanced students of Buddhism or other faiths or philosophies really do understand the riddle of life better than I. It is also conceivable that physicists are approaching great truths, but without understanding the math behind modern physics, I nevertheless suspect they are only leading to more questions, not answers.
MH: Conversely, you present a strong sense of connection to the earth. Maybe even a responsibility, a requirement of stewardship? In “I Destroy Biodiversity Because the Neighbors Expect It” our stewardship comes off as misguided. You present an inevitability that earth will prevail over man. Tell us more about your perspective on our relationship to the earth.
Ethan: I definitely think we all have a responsibility for stewardship of the Earth and we are collectively failing. Badly. “I Destroy Biodiversity Because the Neighbors Expect It” comments on how social expectations for a certain lifestyle can run right over that responsibility. I do think other poems, such as the title poem [I Garden Weeds], bring out the stewardship ethic—that we’re a part of nature and shouldn’t forget it, though we often do, and that nature is messy, cantankerous, and at the same time ordered—but the messiness is part of the beauty. Stewardship of the earth might involve some difficult choices, but collectively we’re not even attempting stewardship, despite some valiant efforts. Our relationship to the earth is one of perceived domination, that we can use to satisfy ever-growing material needs, but in reality, we are just preparing our own doom as a species. The earth will go on, nature will go on without us, although we will have altered it irrevocably.
MH: You bring out this feeling of disconnectedness even more in your poems about humanity, specific humans, and, especially interesting, even yourself. Is there comfort to be found in this disconnection? Or, is the quest for connection overrated? What makes sense to you?
Ethan: I don’t think the quest for connection is overrated, but I think it can lead to some dangerous places. If we feel overly connected to the tribe, Russians versus Ukrainians, citizens versus immigrants, Whites versus Blacks, it may give people a temporary sense of purpose, but it destroys our deeper, truer connections to each other, to the ecosystems, and to the planet. As John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” I do not think there is comfort to be found in disconnection; I think we all crave connection, but a certain sense of disconnection might give us a more realistic picture of life. Or be a starting point. Or perhaps we need to work hard at more profound connections.
MH: Lastly, your closing poem presents a sobering reference to Native Americans, those we can see and those we can’t. It feels like a benediction, a “go in peace” at the end of a meeting. Is this where hope is to be found? Throughout this collection, questions are left dangling, satire abounds (deliciously so, we would add), and everything is nothing. Our condition is laid bare, but this “benediction” feels like a covering to take away. Are we accurate with this assessment? Set us straight.
Ethan: I don’t actually believe the poet has the last word on their poems—there may be many ways to interpret a poem. The subconscious mind is powerful and a poet might not understand their own impulses that went into a poem. And social assumptions are powerful and often invisible and also structure poems. So, there’s room for a tremendous range of interpretation for any given poem.
That said, I am more gloomy about the history of Native Americans than the question implies. The dead cannot be brought back, although perhaps destroyed civilizations can be partly renovated or at least partly understood. It’s become commonplace to point out that indigenous peoples are better stewards of the earth than modern society than the planetary system brought by European colonialism and capitalism. This is too simple, as other civilizations are certainly capable of exploitation, and as the European tradition also was crucial in conceptions of democracy and human rights. Still, the colonial mentality seems to be winning. I fear that what happened to indigenous peoples in North America is a harbinger of wider ecological disaster. On the other hand, there is certainly an abundance of nature thriving in the suburbs. Nature is resilient, an irony that the closing poem plays on to at least bring a bit of humor to a grim situation.
Thanks, Ethan! He does bring smiles to our grim situation, a challenge to make “more profound” connections, and appeals to our desire to be better human beings. Really? All that? You’ll have to read I Garden Weeds to see what we mean. Well done, Ethan! And, if you get yourself a copy, well done you!