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by Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis’s new collection is a stunning collision of the pastoral tradition with the politics of the post-industrial age. These poems are allusive and tough. While they celebrate the pleasures of the natural world—mutability, desire, and the flowering of things—they are compounded by a critical awareness of contemporary culture. As we traverse their associative leaps, we discover a linguistic landscape that is part garden, part wilderness, where a poem can perform its own natural history. Divided into four cantos interrupted by lyrics and errata, Meteoric Flowers mirrors the form of Erasmus Darwin's 18th-century scientific pastorals. In attending to poetry's investigative potential, Willis shifts our attention from product to process, from commodity to exchange, from inherited convention to improvisational use.
Download Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan Poetry Series) epub
ISBN: 081956849X
ISBN13: 978-0819568496
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Poetry
Author: Elizabeth Willis
Language: English
Publisher: Wesleyan; First edition. edition (December 4, 2007)
Pages: 94 pages
ePUB size: 1286 kb
FB2 size: 1349 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 643
Other Formats: doc rtf txt mbr

As a American youth growing up in the rural reaches of France, I often saw the bent figure of an elderly peasant woman at sunset, retreating to her forest home, weighed nearly horizontal by the weight of the onions that hobbled her walk. Our neighbors called her, "La Metisse" (i.e, woman of the rural underclass.) To me, she represented the pluses and minuses of country living, and when I purchased this book from Amazon in September, and cracked open its bright new pages, I felt a breath as though wild onions were speaking to me through the burlap of that long-ago sac du mendiant. Though the reviewer for the Boston Review wrote that, "This is not a sprawling poetry of staggering accumulation. It is a structured, trimmed, wrought coexistence," I think, au contraire, it is precisely the sprawl of "staggering accumulation" that gives Meteoric Flowers a grave grandiloquence, and marks it as a step away from the precise, orderly surrealism of Willis' previous book project, "Turneresque."

Here a ring of accompanied prose poems, each wound up tighter than a church key, marches along in "Canto" form, and then the accumulated tension breaks, like a levee, with one or two "Verses Omitted." I like it when this happens, for the magic of verse, Willis' precipitous line breaks that leap like goats across the Andes, casts a retrospective spell over the prose sections that preceded them. I wonder if these are ever written under restriction? So often the fourth or fifth sentence in each prose poem turns up in the form of a question, as though the I Ching were dictating an outward turn at X or Y point. "Is this my design?" reads one of them, to which you can't help but think, "You tell me." The next page returns the question's focus to botany, to Willis' keen sense of ontogeny recapitulating all the lovely phylogeny of the world. "So what if," she asks, "another flower plagiarized the rosary?" "Do you read or hear it?" asks "The Skirt of Sight" (page 26).

Her brilliant and probing mind has along been drawn to paradox, its spotted dots like the distant hides of cattle, and as well, there was been a more recent interrogation of beauty, its tragical susceptibility to the cash nexus an Achilles heel on Cyd Charisse's elegant slipper. "His flying mantle, is it not silk?" Above all, METEORIC FLOWERS has a lot to say about form itself, the narrow bed where nuns fret not, about form and system. Robert Bresson told us that the system does not regulate everything--it is a bait for something. Elizabeth Willis asks, "How big is our room if we can't see its edges?"
Elizabeth Willis, Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan, 2006)

Sometimes you're reading a book and you stumble on something-- a turn of phrase, a sentence-- that lets you know you're reading something that was written by someone who has a feel for language that goes beyond the ordinary. It's somewhat more rare for this to happen on the first page of a book, and rarer still for that sort of facility to be kept up throughout an entire book. There are few authors where encountering such a thing would not be a surprise; one of them is Liz Willis.

"I have my mother's features in my heart, the darkest gem, tripping in the tar, an affinity for Iceland."

Taking as her inspiration Erasmus Darwin's The Botanic Garden, Willis balances Darwin's particular poetic eccentricity ("...[Darwin's poems'] unwieldy asymmetries and their sudden leaps between botany, political and aesthetic history, technology, and pastoral romance...") with a modern sensibility (" eerily apt model for riding out the inter-discursive noise of the early twenty-first century."). She reverses Darwin here; instead of poems bracketed with copious footnotes, she fills the body of the text with small, spare blocks of prose, tossing a piece of verse into the nooks and crannies here and there. I have never been much of a fan of the idea of the "prose poem"; the paradox created by the juxtaposition is far too much for the average poet to overcome. Willis, however, does not vaguely resemble the average poet.

"The dahlia's abundance can't help but fill the room, its lesson of impermanence buried in quikrete."

If such a thing as a prose poem exists, these concise snapshots of a twisted-around, confused, and yet oddly joyous world are excellent examples of the genre. This is a book that compels you to read it neither through command nor seduction, but through simply laying bare what it has to offer and letting the reader see that so much more is on offer than what was originally expected. It's wonderful, and I have no doubt in my mind it will find a place on my beast-reads-of-the-year list for 2007.

"Could word belie its little clouds, Montblanc would storm against the poet's skin." **** ½