With her first collection, LeRoy delivers luminous, art-inspired poems that expertly balance the concepts of nature and the human struggle.
LeRoy, a retired science writer, could easily be an art historian, given her facility with the impressionists and Dutch masters. Many of these free-verse poems have the concentrated color and frozen action of a still life. “The Yellow Fields of Gennevilliers” compares two Gustave Caillebotte paintings, while “Wheat Field with Crows” juxtaposes past and present as Vincent van Gogh’s grief foreshadows an ill friend’s demise. “The Lady and the Unicorn,” a close reading of a Parisian tapestry, recalls author Tracy Chevalier’s literary approach to history. Permeated with color and light, many poems are like mood studies: “September” features “sapphire sky” and “afternoon’s blue”; “The Old House” exhibits shades of gray, a recurrent hue. LeRoy chooses alliteration and assonance over rhyme—the one end rhyme, perhaps incidental, comes as a shock (“fast / passed” in “Flat Run”). Repeated consonant sounds create soothing rhythms, as in “unsuspecting sea” and “fiddleheads unfurl: / fanfare.” The poems are carefully organized to bleed into each other thematically. For instance, in “Evidence for Strings,” physics—specifically string theory—cedes to talk of music and stringed instruments; the next poem, “Violin,” then follows seamlessly. Likewise, the striking intersection of beauty and violence in “Planting Tulips”—“a battlefield so strewn / with brightly turbaned heads / it was compared to a bed of tulips”—leads to the war-themed “Verdun.” The author’s knowledge of plants comes through in her delicate description of chicory (“this asterisk of color”) and in “Saguaro,” a poem inventively written from a cactus’s perspective. One stanza of “Ginkgo” resembles a haiku, making it germane to its Asian setting. LeRoy masters the confluence of art and science, joining writers such as Ruth Padel, Andrea Barrett and A.S. Byatt. Almost equally valuable, however, are her subtle relationship poems, such as “Firewater,” in which a collision of life-giving but destructive forces symbolizes the challenges of marriage. Five final poems about medical crises and death ease into a superb finale: “sorrowed by so much lost / hungry for what remains.”
A stunning poetic debut.