“These woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep” — Robert Frost
Kyla Houbolt’s second poetry chapbook TUNED: Selected Poems (2020) is a collection about nature, much like Robert Frost’s poems were about nature. A lot has been said about the multiple meanings in Robert Frost’s poetry, and similar things can be said about this collection. Robert Frost’s poems often offer hope in witnessing the beauty of nature. Ezra Pound revered his “good sense to speak naturally.” This collection also shows reverence for the beauty of nature, and it also speaks naturally of the death of individual human beings much like Frost’s poem Stopping by the Woods on a Winter Evening, but also of the world itself with allusions to the impending disaster of climate change.
Many of these poems are tragic, and rightfully so, as they discuss the end of life for an individual and the world. This chapbook explores the wonderment of nature, but also the tragedy of its possible ending. What it does best is exploring the space a human being takes and alluding to what we have done and continue to do to the earth.
In Weather, the lines “hot as the inside/of a mad devil’s ear/I think of making a will/but I won’t/there’s nothing to leave” involve the blurred line between the self and the world. Ms. Houbolt may be talking about feeling the regret of having next to nothing to leave to her family. However, there is also ambiguity as to whether this poem is also saying that what we have done and continue to do to the world will result in not leaving anything valuable.
There is also tenderness in the tragedy. In At the End the lines “escaping the deadly shore we come/ to the smallest whale sounding/ her delicate spout” even though “we do not know what to do,” we are accepting of any little bit of tenderness. The whale is “delicate,” and this suggests that all of nature has become more delicate. We are not sure what we can even do about the impending doom involving multitudes of species, but we can still appreciate with when we are able to be around nature.
Perhaps the best poem in this collection is also the most hopeful. Owl has excellent imagery in its description of the bird: “the owl makes a hollow sound … soft feathered howl/ while the night wind blows.” Ms. Houbolt is clearly in awe of nature, as symbolized by the owl in this poem, despite being “lured by the world’s disaster.” It may be that Ms. Houbolt’s solution to the horror of likely permanent and ever increasing climate change that is necessarily affecting us all, involves the continuing reverence for nature and not throwing away what we all desperately need. Robert Frost’s nature poems greatly affected a nation over a century ago, and Ms. Houbolt shows us that nature being at the center of focus has never been more relevant.