I don’t read very much contemporary poetry; I admit that I like my poets dead and classic. But one poet I do try to keep up with is Mark Jarman, who teaches at Vanderbilt and is somehow associated with a movement called the New Formalism. I don’t know what’s New or Formal about it, or if it’s really an Ism, but I enjoy and profit from a lot of the stuff Jarman the poet writes, as well as the stuff that Jarman the critic points me toward.
Here is his poem “Outside” from the book To the Green Man.
God says to Adam and Eve, “This time nothing’s forbidden.
You may have the garden and the fruit of every tree.
That tree’s fruit will give you knowledge of good and evil.
The fruit of this tree, even better, will make you forget.
Eat all you want. Let bygones be bygones.”
And so at once they go to find the wall
And the way out, eating as they go,
Burning as they go, going because just thinking
There is a wall makes them feel cramped. They cross
Rivers and mountains, seas, they find no wall.
They eat the fruit of knowledge and see the problem:
Without a wall, the world is all they have,
Crisscrossed by their progress, a vacant lot.
God reminds them, “Nothing is forbidden.”
They eat the fruit of forgetfulness, and forget.