A sprawling poetry anthology explores California’s ecology.
A plethora of poets honors the Golden State and its unique ecosystem in this book, organized by editors Day (The Rainbow Zoo, 2016, etc.) and Nolan (Ruby Mountain, 2016, etc.) around topography. In primarily free-verse style, poets examine the beauty of the California landscape as well as the foreboding changes occurring there. The first section, “Coast and Ocean,” introduces the diversity of marine life, from whales and dolphins to sea lions and seals. Judith McCombs’ “Refugio Beach, California, 1950” and Kay Morgan’s “Before the Oil Spill” recall a more virginal era in West Coast ecology. In the “Coastal Redwoods” section, authors expound on forestry; Marcia Falk admires the trees’ “silent flesh” while their aroma awakens Cynthia Leslie-Bole “like a slap from a Zen master.” Dana Gioia leads readers into “a landscape made of obstacles” in the “Hills and Canyons” section, in which CB Follett mourns the loss of elk, salmon, and bears in “Once Here.” In “Fields and Meadows,” Kim Roberts catalogs invasive weeds while Kevin Durkin pays homage to his feathered friends. Scorpions skitter and coyotes prowl in the “Desert” section. The “Rivers, Lakes, and Lagoons” section fixates on the lack of water, as when T.m. Lawson ponders the disappearance of a Santa Monica watering hole in “droughtfall.” Water is considered a gift in the “Sierra Nevada and Cascades” section, in which Karen Greenbaum-Maya vividly recalls a “blue so pure it lit me up / as though I’d gulped a star.” The book ends with “Cities, Towns, and Roads,” a timely meditation on the disastrous effects of industrialization and climate change. The poets in this appealing collection are pure professionals. Every missive is a sensory-rich experience. Evocative images like Susan Kelly-DeWitt’s willow trees that “hung their heads / like sad old men” are abundant. The major fault of this anthology is its size; at nearly 400 pages, it is a downpour of poetry that will likely leave readers feeling more waterlogged than refreshed. The collection would have benefited from further pruning.
A captivating and visceral portrait of the California landscape by a talented cast of poets.