The Majesty of Trees: Poets Respond Root, Trunk and Branch
Co-Editors: Jennifer Dotson and Mary Beth Bretzlauf
Format: 8 ½” x 0.19” x11” Perfect Bound Paperback
73 poems, 57 Artworks, 79 pages
Publisher: Highland Park Poetry
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
As each of our three children entered the world, my wife and I planted a tree in tribute to
each life. We represented our oldest (1972) with a soft maple, now over 100 feet tall. Our
second son (1979) shines forth with the pink blossoms of a redbud in the backyard. A
lovely Japanese ivory silk commemorates the birth of our daughter (1990). For us, trees
speak about important things such as roots, branches, beauty and longevity, to name
but a few values that amplify the meaning of our lives collectively and individually.
In the superb anthology, The Majesty of Trees: Poets and Artists Respond Root, Trunk
and Branch, co-editors Jennifer Dotson and Mary Beth Bretzlauf, reward readers with a
smorgasbord of visual and poetic delights. The layout is an attractive 8 ½” x 11” volume
printed on high quality stock. The full color images fit perfectly alongside the sans-serif
typeface chosen for the poems. Line-spacing is generous, easy on the eyes. I often enjoy
leisure moments randomly thumbing through the book, lingering with a poem-picture
combo that attracts my attention.
Majesty of Trees is organized in three sections that appear in the title.
When I think of roots, I recall lessons from my childhood on Psalm 1. I wanted to be like
a tree planted by streams of water. Joan Leotta’s poem, “Sycamore Roots,” captures a bit of
Sycamore trees line our street,
planted so long before me
that their roots
were already making a crazy quilt
out of the city-laid cement sidewalks,
adding several degrees of difficulty
to my rolling skating and hopscotch.
Contemplating one’s roots often lends perspective on who we are and where we came
from. Dennis Trujillo’s “Vernacular of Trees,” avers:
Trees speak among themselves
in various dialects. Their voices
vibrate far outside the realm
of human ears, but wood ants sense
conversation in branches and bark.
Trujillo goes on to draw comparisons between people and trees and our mutual struggle,
“grasping accents from faraway places.” This metaphorically rich poem personifies
trees speaking and listening, being a part of things … your reviewer envies the life-
perspective offered in this poem.
Each page is enhanced by the editors’ judicious placement of full-color artworks next to
the poems. For instance, Lennart Lundh’s superb photo of a weeping willow blowing in
the wind is a perfect match with Idella Pearl Edwards', “Weeping Willow Tree” which:
Is quite a sight to behold.
It can grow as high as 50 feet,
Or so I have been told.
For Joan McNerney, trees stand tall as something to believe in, they are:
Those silent citadels
standing against long
nights of wind and cold.
In an age where few things seem stable, I appreciated McNerney’s singing tribute to trees
and why she says, “I Believe in Trees.”
Moving into Section II: Trunks, the editors have collected stunning images of trees
reaching high in backdrops of seasonal color, posed along roadsides, in wide pastures and
in fields. In Betsy Dolgin Katz’ poem, “Guardians of Fort Sheridan,” trees are sentinels
that “stand in a line firm and straight /, “Proud to serve a higher cause.” //
The volume features a variety of poetic styles. While free verse dominates the collection,
short forms such as William Marr’s “Tree” showcase remarkable lyric economy:
Day and night
I hear the annual rings
inside my heart
on the rugged road
toward the sky
Above and below a lovely photo by Silvia Morgan, of a pine overlooking an expanse of
crystal blue water, two haiku, one by Morgan, the other by Charlotte Digregorio bring out
the extraordinary beauty of the scene:
lovely, old pine tree
wishing to sail with the wind
deep in the old growth
a downy woodpecker drums
to a warbler’s trill
Dotson and Bretzlauf display a sense of humor by featuring a poem by Lawrence Feder,
in which Feder laments the endangerment of his favorite tree in “The Sassafras Tree”:
Oh woe is me
My favorite tree
My big fear
No more root beer.
You won’t want to skip over this delightful poem; there are 26 lines preceding the ending
lines shown above, which will have you smiling.
I cannot leave this section without calling attention to a full-page photo by Don Gehant of
California redwoods. Opposite the redwoods, Marilyn Gehant’s poem, “The Cathedral,”
uses gorgeous language to usher readers, as a church deacon might, to where:
Silent souls tread where the smallest cones
lie gnawed by resident red squirrels
and the downy feathers of barred owls
carpet the path to awe.
In looking for a poem to exemplify Section III: Branches, I hit upon Agnes Vojta’s poem,
“Comparing Autumn Leaves to Gold is Cliché”:
and feeble—when did gold ever shine
like this? Only
fire and passion flame
like the maples.
The trees dance a wild
celebration, shout in orange
exuberance, get drunk
on the last sunshine,
the fermented essence
throws a crazy party at the edge
of darkness, and we are
Something your reviewer especially appreciates about Majesty of Trees is the 8 pages the
editors devote to short biographies of all the contributing poets, painters and
photographers. I found that these pages provided a lot of extra information and teaching
about trees, enhancing my overall enjoyment.
Among the things I have learned from this extraordinary collection is that trees have
much to offer our lives. No less a luminary than Walt Whitman knew exactly what that
meant when he wrote,
“Go and sit in a grove or woods, with one or more of those voiceless companions,
and read … and think.”
After experiencing The Majesty of Trees, that is exactly what your reviewer intends to do.