Language of science reoriented into verse

Second collection of poetry by Governor General Madhur Anand’s award-winning memoirist, poet and conservationist, Parasitic oscillations (McClelland & Stewart, 115 pages, $20), takes an ecological approach to the environment, colonialism, art, family and loss.

The collection opens by recontextualizing the language of science. These opening poems are found poems with words taken only from the scientific papers she quotes: “Three roots remain remnants and three roots are born. / Bird, birds, bird song, songbirds, songbird, songs, song, syllables.”

Not only does Anand reuse scientific language, but she also uses figures, diagrams, and photographs to expand the possibilities of the poem. Beneath a diagram of a phase-plane portrait of a mathematical model of bird song, Anand writes: “Overlaying the concept of diaspora on the movement of bird specimens around the world, tracking the co-movements of natural and cultural histories to shed light on the oscillation, but ultimately interrelationships between humans and nature.

This rootedness in connection leads Anand to change perspective, from human as (always) subject to human as (sometimes) object.

“Identify yourself,” she wrote at the end of Ode to a QR Code, which takes place in the ornithological wing of the Natural History Museum. In this poem, failure to scan a QR code interrupts the usual order of visiting the museum, as the collection interrupts our expected narrative: “The opposite of a tragedy, set/in a frame, an illusion of optics playing/with perspective, the limits of perception.

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From its first lines, Michael Fraser The day breakers (Biblioasis, 95 pages, $20) blurs the distinction between Canadian and American history. In this third collection, Fraser’s dense sound and lyrical poems bring to life the African Canadians who fought for the Union Army in the American Civil War.

In the opening poem, Proclamation, he writes of how news of the Emancipation Proclamation “breaks through the call-response chirp of women bent over ribbed washboards.” The rhythmic accumulation of detail propels “their blue frames / impatient wopse four centuries scrogged to scrimy hell, / their lives rolling on new metaphors”.

Throughout the collection, Fraser uses texture and rhythm to create haunting effect. In And there she serves, for example, its use of hyphenation and line breaks snag the flow of the poem: through / the layers of moist body tissue, as a / knife ever could. Here, line breaks interrupt the flow of accumulating detail to keep the reader in the moment of bodily vulnerability for as long as possible.

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In Connectomics, the first part of his third collection synaptic (University of Regina Press, 73 pages, $19.95), Alison Calder uses the interplay of poetic and scientific language to map connections and issues of the mind: .”

In these poems, poetic and scientific methods converge around a common concern: “At what age? How to sleep? How do you want?/ — the fundamental mysteries of biology hidden in plain sight.

The poems in the second section deal with other unseen, imagined and neglected states, and how these interact with the ordinary world. In Warming upfor example, while the speaker catalogs the visible evidence of melting glaciers, “notebook, / piece of purple cloth, the broken branch of a femur”, what drives the poem is the invisible: first the emergence of viruses from the ice and then “The microbes hang suspended in the ice./ No one thinks they’ll fall.”

Calder pits the ineffable and the practical against each other, and she approaches this intersection with characteristic wit and a finely honed sense of both what makes something strange and what itself can reveal.

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Melanie Brannagan Frederiksen is a writer and critic from Winnipeg.

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