Hope Tree by Frank Montesonti
Black Lawrence Press, 2013; 84 pp
Reviewed by Daniel Heffner
Frank Montesonti created Hope Tree by removing letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs from a horticultural manual by R. Sandford Martin titled How to Prune Your Fruit Tree. His source material provides him with ready metaphors for caring for growth by a process of calculated and directed violence and removal. Therefore, it is a real achievement that no poem in this book takes those metaphors at face value.
In part, he does this through language that is difficult to parse: “As noted in a previous paragraph, / head / back to / voluntarily / fruit / hand thinned, / voluntary June taken place.” It frustrates easy answers and simplistic use of the metaphors. These are poems that demand time and careful attention, and they reward both.
The book is far from being a mere complex syntactical puzzle, though. Montesonti crafts some beautiful lines out of his source material. In one poem, he enjoins the reader to “consider / the dead / crossing branches, / rubbing one another / in an overcrowded manner.” In another, he urges patience: “it is a mistake to attempt to force / external / hedging, / When the fruit is ripe it will fall.” Still, one of the highlights of the book, for me, is the dry, instructional tone that Montesonti allows to leak through from the original text juxtaposed against the imagery that he has crafted out of it.
Pruning is an act of hope and an act of giving up: “These will not bear fruit again remove them” or “Remove the one which contributes / the least.” Montesonti does not force that to be an analogy for any social, cultural, or personal rule or system. Instead, he puts his poems, his source text, and the world outside them both in conversation, and the result is a remarkable book.