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Mezzo Cammin: An Online Journal of Formalist Poetry by Women - Sloan
A review of Make for Higher Ground

Review by Wendy Sloan

Make for Higher Ground, by Diane Lee Moomey. Barefoot Muse Press, 2021.

ntroducing this, her first poetry collection, Diane Lee Moomey poses a ubiquitous question of our age, rocked as it is by crisis after crisis without reprieve: "Waves of plague and protest, worlds awry. All bets are off. What now?" What indeed. Moomey suggests that "some usable wisdom" can be found through consulting the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes. For the theme of her book, she has taken I Ching Hexagram #57, Penetrating Influence, interpreted in my copy of the Ching as "The Gentle. Success through what is small." (Wilhelm/Baynes translation, Bollingen Series XIX, Princeton University Press 1950). As Moomey sees it, despite the daunting big picture, much can be accomplished through "the small, steady movements of the natural world," through a single person's "persistent pushing," through "those tiny things we call 'words.'"

Moomey expands on this theme in her opening poem, "Primer for Modern Times—A riff on I Ching Hexagram #57, Penetrating Influence (Xun Xun)," The wind "persistently, consistently/gnaws and frets, occasionally bringing/ down the house." And another natural element, water "carries lime, drops on self-same/spots—stalactites, stalagmites." The poem ends with the admonitions: "one should not forget/to be like the wind," and "One would do well/to emulate the ruthlessness of water."

The ruthlessness of water is the subject of "Water Above, Water Below—a riff on I Ching Hexagram #29, K'an K'an: Danger" (originally published in Caesura). In my Bollingen Ching, this hexagram is termed "The Abysmal" (Water), or K'an K'an, the Abysmal over the Abysmal! Moomey has used a line from this poem as her book's title, "make for higher ground." The poem is at once so extraordinary and so typical of Moomey's best work, and consequently so revealing of her technique and talent, that I'll quote it here in full. The poet paints a nightmare picture of apocalyptic flood:

The lights are going out dear—one
by one. Circuits short—listen! The crack

of lines downed, drowned by water rising
from the dark beneath our feet. Wicks,

damp, go limp, collapse in lipid puddles,
hissing. Flashlights flicker, fail in swamps

new-made by dams broken, oaths broken.
Water goes where water will, filling:

water mixed with gas, soaking wood,
bringing to the surface pestilence

once hid. Listen! filaments of bulbs—
bright, their wires thin as hairs—now snap.

Tungsten ringlets droop. One shakes the glass
in disbelief—only tinkling

within. The lamps are going out, dear,
one by precious one and it's for us

to choose to live in darkness or, blind
and trembling, make for higher ground

and set ourselves alight.

Painterly, yes, in its descriptive detail, in its contrasts of dark and light (and Moomey is a visual artist as well as a poet) but senses other than sight are called into play here. We have sound—"listen! "Listen!" "crack" and "snap" "hissing" and "tinkling," and we have a "trembling" to the touch, with a hint of threatened electric shock, and the suggestion of the smell of gas and wet wood. Moomey sometimes brings to mind the Imagist poets in her use of sensory imagery—Amy Lowell, for example. She's like the Imagists, too, in her preferred loose metrics, a rhythmic rather than a rigidly metrical verse similar to what Lowell called "cadenced." Internal rhyme, assonance, alliteration, incantatory repetition—all are part of Moomey's poetic paint box. In "Water Above, Water Below," I Ching meets dystopian climate change catastrophe.

Moomey's frequent references to the I Ching, then, invoke a world view central to her own vision. And since they do, it's worth a detour to examine what that world view entails. While poets capture the moment with words drawn, at least in part, from their subconscious, the Ching's hexagrams draw their oracular power from that non-causal dynamic that Carl Jung called "synchronicity." Jung's invaluable analysis of the Ching is expounded in his Forword to the Bollingen edition. Simply put, synchronicity in this context means that whatever occurs in a given moment belongs to that moment: "The matter of interest [to the ancient Chinese view] seems to be the configuration formed by chance events in the moment of observation, and not the hypothetical reasons that seemingly account for the coincidence." In Jung's words: "[S]ynchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) state of the observer or observers." As Jung points out, although this concept is far removed from traditional Western postulates of cause and effect relationships, it is in line with contemporary physics.

How then does the oracle work? The I Ching is a text of sixty-four hexagrams together with commentary upon their meaning. One draws a particular hexagram through a simple coin toss: three coins are tossed six times, each toss resulting in a solid or broken line. So, when I toss three coins six times, giving heads the numeric value of 2 and tails the value of 3, and making a solid line for resulting even numbers and a broken line for odd ones, I construct a hexagram—such as #57 Xun Xun. That hexagram belongs in and is a part of that moment with me, moreover, it "coincides with" that moment "in quality no less than in time" (Jung again) and responds to whatever question I have put to the oracle. Each of the hexagrams in the Book of Changes is accompanied and elucidated by the textual commentaries of centuries of Chinese scholars and thinkers. Hence, Jung: "[n]ow the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching are the instrument by which the meaning of sixty-four different yet typical situations can be determined."

Synchronicity and the subconscious are at play—and on display—throughout Moomey's work. They are inherent in the incantatory magic of rhythm and rhyme, of course, and both, especially cadenced rhythm and internal rhyme, are common in these poems. It's a platitude to note that they're inherent in the process of poetic composition itself. But they're also manifest in the way Moomey captures a broad swath of time and space along with worldly objects and subjective human experience in her compact lyrics. Examples abound in poems concerning everything from a visit to a flea market in "At the Dollar Bins" ("Gather, glean—to keep/ or give away—because something/ in this skirt, that sequined vest,/those purple gloves, is still alive."), to reflection on imported household objects in World Market ("Cost/Plus. Block printed. India/…My rooms are full of treasures made by hand—displayed against the cheap white sheetrock/ of what I call "home", a bamboo/screen from Indonesia, a paper from/ Japan… Every one/is charmed and tethered to its birthplace—"). In "Brie" (originally published in Peacock Journal), the speaker would conjure the return of a longed-for friend or lover by recreating the scene of their last visit:

I'm opening a Brie for you. I'll set
it where its shoulders, creamy firm, will slump
into the warmth of afternoon, and where
what breeze there is today will carry news
of "Brie" out to the highway, where you may

be driving. Yo-Yo Ma is at full volume
now (in case you're walking by) and I've
opened the Neruda to the verse
that seemed to summon you the time before,
and read aloud the stanza twice

read aloud his final stanza twice.
And I have trimmed the ivy, cut the spent
camellia blossoms, swept the brown ones from
beneath the pots that clutter near the door
where surely you will knock and bring a poem,

like you did before.

Moomey deftly captures the tenuous, dramatic interplay of human interrelationships with suggestive strokes that move us from mystery to revelation. "Moon, Moon" (originally published in Mezzo Cammin) is another highly Imagist poem in style and tone:

A waxing moon, near full. Your patio—
camellia petals scattered at our feet,
the light, two shadows clear on yellow stucco
walls. Our speech—the cadences that nearly
swept away the memory of distance,
other marriages, of years estranged.
Almost, I could believe in second chance,
another answer. But I flew away alone—

and brought a pebble home—so round,
so like another moon. Camellia jar
with saucer overflowing on the ground,
the splashing echoing your words. I see
my solitary shadow on the wall,
remember all you told me of your dreams.

A reconciliation begins, but doesn't quite make it. The images of the second stanza mirror and parallel those of the first, yet signify the opposite meaning—not the reconciliation of the couple, but the speaker left alone. The two stanzas reflect each other like the moon reflects "the light." Two moons, two stanzas: one the waxing moon, the other, so like the first yet a mere pebble, a keepsake of greater permanence, perhaps, brought home by our now-solitary speaker. Shadows appear in both stanzas, two shadows on the wall in the first, in the second, only one. The camellia petals "scattered" in the first stanza "overflow[ ]" in the second. The "cadences" of the couple's speech "nearly swept away the memory of distance/other marriages, of years estranged." Almost.

"Ode, With Wings" is a strikingly yet delicately suggestive love poem circling around the repeated phase, "you flew me upside down." No, the speaker hadn't "loved you as a farmer, a farmer" nor "as a fisherman, a fisherman" For, [i]nstead, you flew me upside down". For Moomey, love is the thing with feathers. Her poem concludes:

loved you in the air, the air. You wore
new wings, and in your father's plane so proudly
lent, you flew me upside down. Because
I loved you there, all skies belong to you—

need to drive, to row, but only to
look up, for all my sky belongs to you.

In "Love at the Laundromat"", a couple moves from impending breakup to reconciliation. As "[h]er dollar bills convert themselves to dimes/a tear for every silvery clunk into/the pot below the spout. Who will keep/the flat?" our heroine-speaker wonders. The specter of separation hangs over the couple—until they begin folding the sheets, as "…it does take two to fold a sheet." And so:

Corner to corner, finger to finger, never
looking at him; and corner to corner, never
looking at her he says please let's

not buy new sheets. Hand
to hand, he says let's go home
and dirty up the old ones. Don't

cry. And so they don't, they do, she doesn't,
(not for a while, anyway), and that was that.

Most oblique of all is the relationship that slowly unfolds in "Deciduous—a ballad for Tim," in which the repeated line, "we do this well together," while at first seeming to confirm the strength of the relationship, finally betrays its weakness, revealing that the couple's interactions have stagnated. The poem moves from:

Our paddles dip in unison—
we do this well together—
my bow, your stern, the dog between,
We've had a change of weather.


You bring us in, I tie the lines—
the simple tasks of docking.
I'm carrying our packs ashore
but only loons are talking.

The dos-y-dos of making camp:
we do this well together
and hammer stakes in unison,
unwrap the tents. We tether


Beneath the trees, our pages turn;
the Coleman lantern hisses,
the dog is snoring. We exchange
the briefest goodnight kisses.

To conclude:

Making coffee, breaking camp—
we do this well together,
but whitecaps, wind and lowered skies
promise heavy weather.

Finally, the meaning of the title becomes clear. What is "deciduous" is not merely the landscape, but the relationship. The time has come for our speaker to shed—like a deciduous tree sheds its leaves—this relationship whose time has come—and gone.

The book includes a rather superfluous appendix of "Notes" to the poems, many of which are intended to explain the various poetic forms or metrics utilized. These notes are at best a distraction, at worst a detraction. They don't always seem accurate, at least not to this reader. "Pandemic Picnic,"" for example, is described as "nonce, tercets of 2 lines of iambic pentameter, tetrameter between." I don't hear the lines that way but, in any event, why bother with such explanations? The novice can hardly benefit from them, and the cognoscenti don't need them. Moomey's poems stand perfectly well on their own. We don't need to peek behind the screen.

True to her promise, then, Moomey accomplishes much through "those tiny things we call 'words'". And this is an accomplished first collection, holding the promise of more to come. In the words of the I Ching, it furthers one to have somewhere to go. And Moomey does. And thanks to her, so do we.


Wendy Sloan practiced labor law with the firm of Hall & Sloan before returning to poetry. Her collection is Sunday Mornings at the Caffe Mediterraneum (Kelsay Books, 2016). Sloan's poems and translations have appeared in many journals and anthologies. She was a finalist in the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award Competition and several of her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Sloan lives in New York City, where she hosts the Carmine Street Metrics poetry reading series. A frequent contributor to the Timeline Project, she was Featured Poet in the Winter 2020 issue of Mezzo Cammin.



The Poetry by the Sea Conference ran successfully this year from May 24-27, and is scheduled next year from May 23-26.

Terri Witek: Kim Bridgford was one of the very first to support my work as a collaborator with visual artist Cyriaco Lopes and to honor my way forward as a teacher and practitioner of visual poetics; I’m therefore especially touched that Anna Evans has asked me back as featured artist in the new summer edition of Mezzo Cammin.

The three groups of work represented here are all from longer series of what I call citizen poetics: phone photos dropped into social media feeds without comment: just something washing by in the day’s various streams. To me, it’s important politically that these are all quick, low res images: they are what any soul with a phone might ‘catch' in the same way we monetarily grasp at what flicks past between ads and news from friends in the corporatate-owned scrolls we now move through.

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