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Unread 09-27-2022, 05:45 PM
John Boddie John Boddie is offline
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Matt -

If the character being addressed has previously dug himself into a hole, why would the speaker advise him to repeat the process? To dig oneself into a hole is seldom regarded as a forward looking action. This tension is what I found interesting in the piece. Fatalistic, but interesting.

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Unread 09-27-2022, 08:11 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Matt, I think the issue is I misunderstood the poem. I didn't pick up on what you're intending. I didn't pick up on the metaphorical hole but most important is that I didn't realize the romance. I probably should have. He mentions the tree is naked. I should have picked up on that.

Now that I'm reading it as a more light-hearted romance it has a touch of sadness. The guy is trying to romance a tree. That's a bit sad, isn't it?

Reading it this way I'm not sure the pollen knocking him out from spring to mid-summer works. That's a long hibernation for a human. Perhaps the pollen could make him unattractive with a swollen nose and constant sneezing, plus not feeling well. That could keep him away from her.

I'm not 100% certain why autumn isn't a time for romance. All those colorful leaves and the romance of time passing--the tree will soon be naked and much of its beauty will be gone. I feel the romance just talking about it.

I think I see the first hole is not real but he's suggesting digging a real one? Right? He'll stay there until he understands the ways of trees.

I still think it should be "The tree is dressing" instead of "The tree is getting dressed."

I hope I've done a better job picking up what you intend. I do find it more charming now. Thanks for setting me straight.
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Unread 09-28-2022, 06:26 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
Join Date: May 2013
Location: England, UK
Posts: 4,493

Carl, John B and John R,

Many thanks all for coming back.


I've been looking at dictionaries. The idiom seems to appear both as "dig a hole for yourself" and "dig yourself into a hole". Whether the two versions are differently well-known in different places, I don't know. But the phrase does seem to causing a lot problems. So maybe I need to put "into" in, though I'm not immediately keen on that. I'd also be interested to hear more Brits comment.

John B.,

That's an interesting point.

I'd intended, primarily: you've dug yourself a metaphorical/proverbial hole, now dig yourself a literal one. Essentially a rhetorical move, some word-play. This could be read as, I guess: you've (inadvertently) dug yourself a negative hole, now (intentionally) dig yourself a positive one.

But I can see, as you say, that this is open to being read as there being some slippage in meaning from the first type of hole to the second, so that the second hole takes on some of the negative meaning of the first. Being in a hole (even a literal one) often isn't a good thing for humans. At the same time being planted in the earth does tend to be a good thing for members of the vegetable kingdom. There is a tension there. I'm pleased that this adds interest for you.

When I said I didn't recognise my poem in your critique, it was that I didn't see it as addressing "time and change and self" and self-image, by means of a metaphor, an approach which you call "ordinary" and Cameron calls "boring". I hadn't written, or didn't see myself as having written, a standard metaphor/allegory poem in which I wrote about wooing a tree, but was actually intending to write about something else.

Cameron makes a similar point to yours; his issue, though, I think, is that for him this poem risks being mistaken for a standard metaphor/allegory poem. That it looks too much like one.

John R.,

I'd thought something like, "looking for friendship and possibly more" was a standard phrasing, recognisable from e.g. small ads and dating sites, but then again, there's always the transatlantic translation issue. And if that doesn't come across, I can see how the rest of the poem would read very differently. I don't mind that the length of time the N is out for is unbelievable, but I do like your idea of the pollen making the N unattractive and becoming embarrassed of his looks.

Thanks again, all.


Last edited by Matt Q; 09-28-2022 at 06:34 AM.
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Unread 09-28-2022, 07:23 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 3,658

It’s been a while since I’ve read anything of yours. The voice is so distinctive as to give me a feeling like a dialog has resumed after an absence. Good poets almost always do that, I think.

I sometimes have to remind myself to re-read the title after reading a poem to put the title and the poem together to be one. I think the best titles can be the missing element one needs to understand what the body is saying. This is that kind of poem.

When I returned to the title (which I had nearly ignored at the outset) it had that effect. This is as much about what lies below ground as it is about the sensuality of what is above ground. Then I googled "arboreal" (which is an intriguing-looking word) and found that this poem might also be speaking to the relationship between tree-dwelling animals and their chosen homes. It mystified me. That was enough in and of itself. Both the official title "Advice on rooting" and the thread title "arboreal" gave such dimension to the body of the poem that it became parable-like.

It’s a delightful poem, Nevermind that I can see deep down to the roots and it gives me a dark feeling — It’s only a glimpse, though, and I return to the lightness of it and the communal feel of it. The mentality of the voice is childlike, which is hard to do effectively. It is as if the N assumes the reader is on the same wavelength as he is and therefore requires no explanation as to why he is communing with a tree. It never feels like a “tree hugger” poem either, which can be a turn-off to some — just as the term “forest bathing” must be to some.

I’m convinced there is an overarching metaphor at work here but I'm not all that concerned with pursuing it. It all comes through without much conscious thinking on my part. Like parables do to those who listen. I can go on my way having been touched/nourished by the story. Nice to read your poetry again.

I may come back to see if there is anything that catches my eye that might be needing your attention. Some of the critiquers have done a good job of that. (Although I've only skimmed them.) I usually stick to saying what works for me in the poem. In this case, all of it does. Still, I may come back to see...

Btw, You might like to take a look at a book entitled, The Hidden Life of Trees.


Last edited by Jim Moonan; 09-28-2022 at 06:20 PM.
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Unread 09-28-2022, 07:56 AM
R. Nemo Hill's Avatar
R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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Location: Halcott, New York
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I love this just as it is, Matt. And I got the hole(s) reference immediately. I actually find the light touch here refreshing, the wisdom casually put across: it knocks the poet down a notch or two, and it is this lowering (eventually into a new more patient hole) that gives the tree room to be, simply, a tree.


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Unread 09-30-2022, 08:39 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
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Location: Australia
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Hi Matt!

Everything about this is crystal clear to me on first reading.

It's about wooing. The 'tree' is the object of desire. The woo-er is not having much success, is digging a deeper hole for himself with each attempt. Finally, what he sees he needs is a true self. To be himself. And the law of reversed effort. It's simple, hard-earned wisdom, delightfully done in your signature quirky way of extending a metaphor, garlanding the extension with puns, and poking sticks at cliches, and other wordplay.

I think you've attained a level of virtuosity with this technique. This poem is a beautifully finished piece. So, all that I can offer is a thought to throw light on why I'm not as spellbound as I feel I could be. Somewhere recently I read a review of Ian McEwan's novel Lessons, and the reviewer wrote this: "More authors should repudiate their virtuosity. The results are exciting." I feel there is a real clue in this thought, so much so that I scribbled it down, forgetting to note the source as I often do when I read something that excites me! Imagine that: working long and hard to perfect a style, and then . . . stepping away from it. I don't know if this will ring any bells for you as it did for me. I just thought I'd offer it!

Final thing -- and really not important unless you were publishing in Australia. The title. Here, "rooting" is absolutely the preferred way of saying "fucking". It's why every Aussie sniggers when Americans 'root' for football teams. We are very childish like that! So, here in Oz the poem would render the meaning suggested by the Aussie vernacular.


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Unread 10-01-2022, 03:12 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Hi Matt. I know I run the risk of merely attaching myself to illustrious coat tails here, but I agree with Nemo and Cally (and, to be fair, some earlier others, like Carl and Jim) in their unalloyed enjoyment of the poem. That was my experience when I read the poem for the first time. Reading it again, more closely ...

I have to admit, I paused, even on my first reading, uncertain (like Cameron) about the "blossom" pun. Would "grow" be better? Maybe not.

I'm not wild about "throwing shade" - is that too American for the poem? It seems so to me, but that may be my ignorance talking.

Other than that, my original opinion is unchanged.


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Unread 10-02-2022, 10:33 AM
Sarah-Jane Crowson's Avatar
Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
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I’ll offer a relatively close read, as you are very generous with your time offering these and this might be the critique you find most useful.

So, in my reading, the poem is sitting itself within a magical realist universe. It has a kind of meditative poster/ thought for the day/allegorical feel to it. The overarching ‘thought for the day’ I read in the poem is ‘patience is a virtue’.

Within the allegory, a narrator tells the story of a protagonist who is desirous of a relationship with a tree. The tree, true to magical realism, is presented both as a literal tree and an extended metaphor for simultaneously a lover and a sense of ‘belonging’ in a place (that last reading is one the title steers me to).

Within the allegory there are various mini-messages. The first is about choosing the right time (not Winter) the second is about avoiding getting too excited (the drug-pollen), the third is about simply being in the moment, leading to the overarching message of ‘patience is a virtue’.

There’s not much imagery in the poem, nor many sensory qualities - the dynamic/engagement is situated in the situation itself and the cohesion/cleverness of the extended metaphor. The authorial voice is somewhat detached - an explanatory narrator in a position of power, teaching something. There are clever word-level moments that echo the human relationship (the tree ‘throwing something’.)

This is a very self-aware poem, which is probably fair enough for this kind of allegory. It’s a poet’s poem, maybe. I’m not sure that it does that magical thing poems can, which is to become more than the sum of its parts, but it’s tidy, just the same.

But, because, for me, it doesn’t become more than the sum of its parts, I’d be thinking of ways to try to get it to engage people a little more. The title, for me, is weak, although it describes the poem nicely. But could different words add more - add another dimension to the poem rather than describe its dual meanings cleverly.

Would it be worthwhile adding some further, more sensory imagery? Or would that push it away from that 'thought for the day' feel too much?


Last edited by Sarah-Jane Crowson; 10-02-2022 at 05:50 PM. Reason: I posted this in a rush and did some quick editing later for sense/typo
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Unread 10-04-2022, 04:04 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Location: England, UK
Posts: 4,493

Jim, Nemo, Cally, Sarah, and David

Many thanks for your comments. It does seems like the comments I've had are split between those who pretty much like the poem as it is, and those who see it as maybe a little too polished or formulaic, which certainly has given me something to think about. No revisions for now, but that doesn't mean there won't be any at some point. I'm definitely thinking about everything that's been said.


"I’m convinced there is an overarching metaphor at work here but I'm not all that concerned with pursuing it.", that was very much how I was hoping for. The metaphor being left as an optional exercise for the reader. I do like the idea "this poem might also be speaking to the relationship between tree-dwelling animals and their chosen homes".


I'm glad it works for you as is, and I liked your reading of it.


Ha, well, it was news to me, but I'm not entirely unhappy with that meaning of "rooting" I found the article about McEwan. I'm wondering if you're saying the impact of the poem lessened by having seen me use this approach before, or if you think there's something off with the poem that might be improved by me taking a fresher punt at it? When I read the quote, what I did think of was roughing the poem up a bit, but as yet I'm not sure what that would look like, but coincidently, I was reading Luke Kennard's "Notes on the Sonnets" today in this context and a phrase from one of his poems stuck out for me: "A writer is always looking for creative ways to fall into a threshing machine". Maybe I need to step closer to the blades ...


I see your point on "blossom". Cameron made the same point. I'm on the fence about it. Sometimes the obviousness of it seems like a positive, other times not. I'm OK with "throwing shade", though, insofar as I think Brits will understand it, and I like the literal take (that the tree is actually throwing something).


Thanks for letting me know how you read this. It's much appreciated -- and interesting to read. I have been having a play with getting more sensory detail in, though not as yet in a way I find to be working. I think it does, as you say, tend to push it away from the "thought for day" vibe, and takes it in a different direction, or has done so far.

Thanks again everyone.


Last edited by Matt Q; 10-04-2022 at 05:38 PM.
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Unread 10-04-2022, 05:36 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
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Location: Australia
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Yes, well, I did think the title worked, as the end of wooing is rooting! Reading it the Australian way casts it in a lighter tone from the start.

And yes! That's the article! To be clear, I don't think the poem needs any more work. It is vintage YOU. And that's great. You know I love your style/voice/world. And that's when the words from the article slid into my head again. I wasn't just thinking of you, but myself, and all of us, really, who are trying to make art. It's a caution against keeping within the parameters of what we know. The Kennard quote puts it more viscerally! I crave the sense of danger, Matt—a tension between absolute mastery and explosive possibility.

To the blades, Matt!

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