A heartfelt, intelligent collection of poems celebrating the uneasy relationship between science and emotion.
Retired scientist Adams (Terrain of Salt, 2015) offers original observations on natural events and landscapes in this unusual set of poems. Scientific analysis provides a backdrop for most of the verses presented here; even their titles are often borrowed from the realm of science (“Anadromous,” “Entropy,” “Metamorphosis,” “Quantum,” “Vaporous”). Moreover, Adams occasionally presents equations or formulae as a kind of afterword for his works. What might have been a loose collection of poems thus becomes organized on principles of vocabulary (Part 1) and, less obviously, on an exploration of the threshold between art and nature (Part 2). The poet presents an admirable ability to use scientific language to express his feelings for nature, as in “Metabolism”: “The god of today is dying. / Summer photosynthetic green is burning away / day by day. / The god today will die / and lie in the snow.” At times, though, this language becomes hard to follow for those who lack strong backgrounds in that field. Similarly, the prologues give too much away, stealing the thunder from the poems that follow; the artistic impact would be stronger without them, as they all too often muffle the emotional impact. For example, “Entanglement,” while appealing, simply can’t deliver the frisson that the introduction promises. Other poems, such as “Frenzy,” “Harmonic,” and “Image,” are inexplicably presented as short prose pieces, diluting their effect. In the end, it’s clear that Adams’ best poems are the simplest, most direct ones, such as “Isotope,” which compares the nuclear holocaust of Nagasaki, Japan, with the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, or “Metaphor,” whose appealing, singsong rhythm invites comparison to William Butler Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Poems such as “Ornament,” “Infinity,” and “Van Gogh’s Night” give a clear indication of Adams’ talent for description and comparison, which is, after all, the basis for all good poetry.
A solid book of poetry that proves that there is beauty in science—and that a poet whose work can make us see such beauty is well worth reading.