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149 BOOK NOTES Biogeography, by Sandra Meek Tupelo, 2008 reviewed by Rachel Abramowitz Sandra Meek’s Biogeography investigates the tension between the brutality and harmony of the earth’s organic processes and humankind’s uneasy relationship to those forces. Meek is a careful observer of nature and the self, her efforts clearly inspired by Emerson, and is fascinated by the metaphoric possibilities offered by scientific theory. While many of her descriptions of the quotidian—a frozen lake, an interminable wait on a grounded plane—are elevated by her original language and phrasing (“The earth’s / a cupped hand holding / its own broken bones”), sometimes where the simplicity of an image might pack the most punch, she gives in to the impulse to “poeticize” those observations, gilding a lily that needs no ornamentation. Ultimately, however, Meek’s commitment to revealing the beauty and mystery of nature obscured by modern life leaves the reader more receptive to the inscrutability of the planet’s intricate systems. Meek is at heart a curious hybrid of explorer, botanist, geologist , and artist. Art, these poems seem to say, has its foundations in the structures described by science—which are themselves a kind of art—and the poems in this book suggest that the careful blending of the two disciplines represents a more truthful view of the world. “Event One” is built upon the (unproven) theory of an “instant ice age,” a swift, extreme change in climate that suggests the earth is subject not to gradual shifts, but devastating variations: We spread across the temperate world as if it would last forever, while millennia’s held breath bubbled Greenland ice flowing surfaceforward , an extended glance of light. Our climate’s history is clocked in beetle casings, the thickening skins lakes secret, articulations colorado review 150 of the body. If stars don’t destroy us, weather will. We are its children. Many of the poems in Biogeography draw upon the similarities between the evolution of the body and the earth’s everchanging composition. In “Event One” the pronouns “we” and “us” ground this cataclysmic episode in the history of humankind , while the earth and the cosmos alternately threaten and cradle our burgeoning existence. Some of Meek’s best phrasing is instinctual, driven as much or more by the ear as by the obligation to flesh out a concept. At times, though, she italicizes a word to stand for a sensitivity to language (“But the body’s adrift / in when, saturated with since”), a device that doesn’t quite earn a claim to mastery. Yet other strategies—such as the simple declaration “We are its children,” which could, in another context, smack of New Age drivel—are a relief from the accumulating images and dense language. In her explorations, Meek is armed with both a telescope and a microscope, and often the reader gets both perspectives— sometimes simultaneously—within the poem. “Astraphobia,” for example, follows the speaker’s attempts to inure her dog to the “terror” of lightning and thunder, while concurrently meditating upon the nature of terror itself and the ways in which civilizations rise and fall according to its patterns: Inside, cool unattainable air: you can’t get in without breaking the way out and therefore failing to escape history writing itself in exhaust above the lake lined with newly bloomed trees, spring’s ghostly architecture made visible bone by hollow bone. When the word is needed, the book falls open to the page. Cities crumble. 151 Book Notes Occasionally a line or two in a poem will border on the operatic , too in love with its own grandness to work (“therefore failing / to escape history writing itself in exhaust” etc.). But so often does Meek get it right that her poems are at once lush and precise, expansive enough to incorporate complex scientific concepts and yet specific when they need to be (“spidering / to hairline fractures frozen across an eggshell”). In fact, it is when she balances metaphor and pure image that the writing is strongest , as in “Karma”: A jaguar bounds across the road, its coat a field of black eyes haloed in light. The only tapir I saw lay quartered and bleeding out in...


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pp. 149-151
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