Urgent, descriptive, plainspoken, hard-edged—a glasswork of facts—the poetry of John Freeman seems to come from a place of intense inner weather, and his latest book, Wind, Trees, is a gust from that interior world, which is a version of your world or mine. I mean to say his style is subtle, but sharp as corners. The poems have a tough quality, a perspective that seems watchful, but always from the edge of things, looking in. They are nervy and aware—Freeman has worked as an editor, books and magazines, and as an essayist, a critic—but the poems at times have the airy lightness of W. S. Merwin. Wind, Trees was written, initially, without any punctuation, as if Freeman were writing out of his own version of the moment when Merwin’s punctuation—after The Lice—dissolved away, but in this case Freeman has added some of it back in, locally, case by case, where he needs it to slow down or regulate what would otherwise turn too breathless for a book trying to catch its own soul, so to speak, trying to stay the confusion. Freeman is a traveler and many of his poems have the traveler’s quick, defamiliarized eye, but many in this collection are London poems from his years living in that city when he edited Granta. One of the finest poems in the book is, as these things so often are, a way of reading Freeman’s poetics. It’s called “Boxing,” and it goes like this:

In the waning days
of those years in London
I took up boxing. I didn’t
want to unload on some
unsuspecting soul so I
found a sparring partner.
She turned up, neck
tatted, face pierced, dread-
locked and strong as hell.
A Turkish woman with
East London stenciled
on her left forearm. Before
boxing she trained horses
in dressage and before
that was trying to
drown herself in drink
After an hour I was losing
my breakfast and last night’s
dinner. See you Wednesday
she said not discussing
whether there’d be an if. Thus
my living room turned into a
boxing gym. Couch the cut
corner. Not once did she knock
me down, but she could have.
I did that all on my own, using
my shoulder for the cross
rather than my hips, leaping
at the uppercut. Thinking it was
about power rather than grace …

The poem unspools in this unexpected way, each line’s assumption undone by the next line, like in a Denis Johnson short story or a long poem by Elizabeth Bishop. The sentences, already flinty, get sheared off by the buzzsaw of the line break, left to fall in place as the poem falls down the page. And it ends, several pages later, like this, on the question of power and grace, an existential for boxers but also for poets:

I’d learned by then most power
came from my ass. But I’d forget.
Throw with my arm. A chill
spring morning I was hitting
one two, one two three, and a
voice comes over the wind
light as a falling leaf—
nah mate, just flick it, like this
and we both look up.
There’s a builder across the
way, footwork loose, dancing
on the scaffolding he’s
tethered to, floating
nonetheless, arms faster than
air. Like this.

If his first book, Maps, recorded a poetry trying to understand and make legible—to itself—the scope of its range, and if The Park, Freeman’s second collection, sought a lyric on the commons, or a lyric commons, this third book shows a poet emerging into a work that does both a mapping and a lyric in a kind of common—plain—speech. But in this case, the map is a map of the interior, and a record of that country’s patterns and obsessions.

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JESSE NATHAN: What is your relation to, or relationship with, solitude? There’s a poem in this new book called “Loneliness,” and I’m curious how you think about that word, but also words like “lonesome,” “alone,” “solitary,” “solitude.” Does solitude ever terrify you?

JOHN FREEMAN: I’ve always thought that solitude and loneliness, and lonesomeness, are three very different states, all conducive to making poetry—which to me is, fundamentally, a way to connect. You can be alone without ever being lonely—that to me is solitude. You can have solitude and start to wish for others: that to me is lonesomeness. So many songs, blues lyrics, emerge from that stage. I wish you were here. That sort of thing. Loneliness is hard, it’s a night watch with one’s self, if you will, to see if a state of solitude can be survived. Ever read those Jack Gilbert poems from Monolithos? He cycles through all these states—sometimes overlapping—through a great love, only to arrive at this hard-won peace with himself. I adore that poem, “Alone on Christmas Eve in Japan,” from late in the book, because it expresses a part of alone-ness we don’t often read about, but I suspect we have all experienced at one time or another: that moment you become a comfort to yourself in loneliness. “Holding myself tenderly in this marred body,” he writes—what a line!—he begins to wonder if the peace he feels is happiness, or if it’s a kind of precursor to giving in to death.

Big questions! They begin to creep up on you in deep silences, no? Solitude is a necessary oxygen for me. I need it to read, to think, to experience the quieter trance states that sustain me: being outdoors, disappearing into a book, daydreaming. Out of solitude I often return clarified by how I belong, or I wish to connect—to people, a larger group, a place. I can see the forest from above, or the city lights twinkling, metaphorically, and think, ah, I belong there. A lot of the time alone which went into writing Wind, Trees, unfolded in that kind of solitude. And that includes the lucky solitude of two of a long relationship, the ways that you can exist together and apart, yet connected. And also the exquisite other form of solitude of two you can experience with an animal, where you can walk or be for hours and of course not say a word. Just the sound of your breath.

I found such a comfort in my smallness in these solitudes. If you spend any time outside, where the mulching of life is so essential to life, there’s a harmony, always in the background, of our connectedness, but also, our smallness. Wind, Trees moves along that uneasy axis between hopefulness and despair, between seeing or feeling that smallness and wondering what is an extinction psalm, and worrying that what I am seeing is simply a natural process. Which is to say, if you use only one tool—say, the news—you’re only going to get one part of that axis, I believe. Terror. Alarm. Doom. So I went outside, mostly alone, happily, though sometimes lonesome, and found these small items of another kind of news.