Wednesday, November 29, 2006



Meteoric Flowers by Elizabeth Willis
(Wesleyan University Press, Middleton, Connecticut, 2006)

In a note Elizabeth Willis tells us that the “muse” of Meteoric Flowers is Erasmus Darwin, “the late eighteenth-century doctor, inventor, poet,” not so much because of his poetic forms, but because of the “sudden leaps between botany, political and aesthetic history, technology, and pastoral romance” in his collection Botanic Garden. She sees in his example an “apt model for riding out the inter-discursive noise of the early twenty-first century.” The titles of the poems in the book, most conceived of as cantos in prose form, are taken from Darwin’s text and they include a wide variety of subjects, mirroring the wide range of Darwin himself.

Beyond the structural elements of this book, the main thing to notice right away is the beauty of the language. Willis is a technician of language, finely crafting each line, though in prose, to echo in our heads, as in the first lines of “A Description of the Poison Tree:”

The girl is a grid, silked with phenomena, an early promise bro-
ken into clover. An owl bends both its eyes to this object. Her de-
sire for shining, a symptom of this bashfulness.

Willis’ language is consistently excellent, and the poems, whether understood immediately or not, are haunting sonorous and interesting. Even more, these poems fit into the pastoral tradition, but Willis expands the tradition with contemporary experience, adding elements like a colonized Moon, X-ray vision, and Pepsi. Familiar phrases are thrown in, such as “What long teeth you have,” but the context of the poems make use rethink the phrases. Plus, these poems are in dialogue with the past literary tradition. Figures like Lorca and Whitman emerge in a few of the poems--Willis even takes on Whitman’s lyric voice in “Primeval Islands” to state “This I, this me, I’m speaking from a book.”

Near the end of the collection, when we think we have a grasp on the work, Willis gives us the poem “Errata,” which asks us to reread the words of the poems up to this point and acts as a guide for the rest of the collection:

for isle, read isles
for boated, read bloated
for poetry, read poetic
for second, read third
for his, read her
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
for her, read its
for word, read world

What we think we have read or experienced should be reread or rethought considering it as “errata,” or we should be willing to allow the associations evoked to resonate as we read. That would be an interesting experience with this collection, for it is one of the best collections that I’ve read in quite a while and is a collection that I think will find its way into many bookcases in the years to come.


Musician, sailor, poet, critic--William Allegrezza teaches and writes from his base in Chicago. His poems, articles, and reviews have been published in several countries, including the U.S., Holland, Italy, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Australia, and are available in many online journals. Also, he is the editor of moria, a journal dedicated to experimental poetry and poetics, and the editor-in-chief of Cracked Slab Books. His e-books and books include The Vicious Bunny Translations, Covering Over, Temporal Nomads, Ladders in July, and In the Weaver’s Valley. He occasionally posts random thoughts on his blog p-ramblings.


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