Dickey (Quebradillas, 2011, etc.) offers a book of poetry that goes back to the origin of the universe.
“In the sense that the story of Earth is a great saga with a magnificent hero (Life) and a formidable villain (Death) my narrative is an epic poem,” writes geologist Dickey in the preface to the first section, “Earth: A Narrative in Verse.” This epic, divided into six eras, begins 4 billion years ago and ends 6 billion years in the future. Beginning with the creation of the solar system, the first section looks at Pre-Archaean and Archaean Earth, followed by Proterozoic, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic, and Future Earth, highlighting major events along the way, including the birth of life on the planet in the form of RNA. The section closes by highlighting the hazardous effects of global warming, which eventually leads to the demise of life on Earth. In the second section, “The Solar System: A Tour in Verse,” each poem focuses on a celestial body, describing the “dark cyclonic storms” on Neptune and Mars’ shield volcano, Olympus Mons, accompanied by NASA photos. The sometimes-rhyming collection functions as guidebook to the universe, with poems such as “Canto 10: The Birth of Love,” explaining the benefit of diploids in accelerating gene variation and another detailing the possibility of ecosystem development on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and ending with a glossary of words and phrases. Unfortunately, many verses read like disjointed sentences from a geology textbook (“Upwelling currents led to chemical / convection fractionation of the melt, / transporting substances more soluble / to liquid levels higher in the stack”). There are also frequent lists, and some misspellings (“Robert Hook,” “Vallis Marineris”) that hamper the momentum. However, other lines flow more smoothly: “Green sunshine danced on rippled sands / awash in shallow seas / where vegetating creatures lay / in vernal reveries.” Most interesting are the collection’s introspective moments. For instance, in “Canto 8: The Cenancestor,” the speaker describes rapidly dividing Proterozoic bacteria and concludes that “Life, for all we know, goes on.”
An informative collection that would have benefited from more accessible imagery.