Exploring Depths of Experience in Arts, Letters, Science and Ideas
America the Possible? Seeing America First with Nathaniel Tarn By Katherine Kearney MaynardGo Back to the Table of Contents
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Tarn’s commitment to this new world is clear in the volume’s opening poem, “Before the Snake,” whose title alludes to the creation myth and the lapse into original sin. The poem moves from celebrating simple sensual pleasures to a characteristically American consideration of nature:

Sitting, facing the sun, eyes closed I can hear the sun.
I can hear the bird life all around for miles, it flies through
us and around us, it takes up all space, as if we were not
here, as if we had never interrupted this place.

Only the sons and daughters of Whitman who have explored a “new” world are entranced and possessed by thoughts of what a truly pristine earth could be like. So engaged, Tarn leaps from the registration of sense data (sun, bird-sound) to the more expansive realm of speculation:

Here you can be the
sun, the pine, the bird. You can be the breathing. I can
tell you, I think this may be Eden. I think it is.
In the pome “Narrative of the Land in Question” Tarn openly defines the itinerary of this voyage of discovery:
The land in question is on no known map,
it hides behind all maps,
its borders are not the borders maps promise us.

Were Tarn solely committed to the realm of philosophical speculation, he would proceed from this point to a discursive or ethical landscape of the “Land in Question.” Instead, he casts about for solid sensual ground, and “The land opens very clearly to the sense.”

The poetry’s strength results from the tension that occurs when journeying between this land “behind all maps” and the sensual realities found in specific geographical locales scattered through numerous poems: the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate, Giverny and Pennsylvania, the Rockies, the Sierras. The collection is a virtual travel guide to America. Finding one’s bearings in the yawning gap between the individual’s mind and soul, and a specific geophysical locale, is fundamental to sound spirituality for Tarn. In “Locating Montauk” he portrays the terrifying isolation that arises when one is dissociated from the land-when the geophysical reality exists only as a “place name.” Here a “wife,” really and “Everyone/Anyone,” flees a failed love. The retreat to a “Montauk” of the mind, an “inner place,” brings no escape, much less solace. Such flight can reveal only “at last how endless exile is.”

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