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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
In Shadows of the Trees: Poems & Prose by Michael W. Cook, poetry is music put into words. Some of this music is somber, sad, indeed emotional, while others express joy and elation and a sense of purpose, a direction in life. Poetry is also like the visual arts in that it uses words to paint literary pictures of events, happenings, emotions, and life itself. In poetry, one can absorb the poet’s transition through life, the maturing of years of experience after manipulating the myriad of complex tangents of youth, and then it’s time to think back: “Time is perplexing/ and hard to define./ Its haste is vexing,/ obscure, and sublime.” I love the use of sublime in comparison with the abstract concept of time.
Michael W. Cook’s Shadows of the Trees is a collection of poems that spans the 1990s. The poet mainly uses the traditional classic poetry form, complete with rhyming couplets, but he also includes some examples of his free-verse poems. Beginning with a concise introduction, the poet explains the background to this collection and then allocates each poem to a specific category of the year in which it was written. The collection begins with reflections on life as a university student: “Infinite diversities,/ infinite combinations./ No universities,/ in the beginnings of creation.” Thank heavens for that, as the beginning of creation one might envision as being too pure to be marred by the confines of institutions of higher learning, the so-called ivory towers. The passage of time is a recurring theme in these poems. In one poem, he begins with a re-write of a childhood rhyme marking the passage of another year, with some painful recollections of the celebration that helped him make the transition. This collection reflects on multiple meanings of life and how the poet comprehends what it means to be alive, what it means to love, and what it means to lose. The poems are monolithic – strong, powerfully emotive, uniform, and indivisible. This is an intense collection that one might want to study many times.