An urgent and scintillating second collection by poet and activist Juliet Patterson
Part lamentation, part ode, Threnody (the word originates from the Greek, threnos, “wailing” and oide “ode.”), examines the beauty and violence of our present ecological moment with a lyric and meditative eye. Concerned with the precise relationship of components in the world these poems exist in the overlap between imagination and fact, truth and history, territory and map, the living and the dead.
As if composed by Psyche and Echo—in its pared-down, spiny, neologistic apprehension—when desire speaks, death responds. Forever. And then desire speaks again. Whether it’s the innumerable deaths of soldiers, or the sudden, inexplicable deaths of whole colonies of bees, Juliet Patterson’s marvelous, wrenching lamentation recalls the forlorn desire and hopefulness in Paul Celan’s “Threadsuns.” Terse, scary, heartfelt—such is this terrific book of poems.
In Juliet Patterson’s sure-footed aesthetic the intellectual, physical and spiritual are woven together—the result is a world saturated by the human mind, and a mind saturated by the world. These poems are driven by a passionate grief for how we have treated this world as a dispensable other when even the reverie of prairie depends on a real bee of the kind “whose life/ burst furious through fields” or “the shimmering plain/half in, half out of time,” “the world’s time/becoming completely destitute/time, but also perhaps not, not yet, /not even yet.”
“Toward a flower- / ing I came // lowly lupine raised / wrist,” Juliet Patterson begins in “Toward,” the opening poem of her latest collection, Threnody, out last fall from Nightboat Books. And with these few lines, she deftly establishes the themes and sensibilities of her project: nature raised up into inspection, and with it, inspection itself (the wrist). Quiet, patient, yet often with a swarming force, these poems worry the fraught intersection between humanity and nature, where, as we quickly see, threat abides. If nature is a flowering, it is a flowering against the edges of nothingness…Threnody is set against the backdrop of extinction—specifically, Colony Collapse Disorder, the sudden disappearance in recent years of millions of beehives that many scientists link to various human causes and which Patterson has addressed in other activist projects. While bees as a specific species figure prominently throughout the collection, the focus of these poems is often much more fundamental, concerned with nature as a generative force entangled with the human mind and its impulse to make both images and language. This relationship between human subject and nature is primordial and immediately hinges on implicit questions about human agency and responsibility. “What light is like this?”
Interview with St. Olaf News
Comprised of free verse poetry that is part lamentation and part ode, “Threnody” is an inherently fascinating and engaging read that showcases Juliet Patterson’s genuine flair for linguistic image making and truly memorable verse in a compendium that is very highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library Contemporary Poetry collections.
In this melancholic collection, Patterson (The Truant Lover) focuses on nature’s understated interactions during a time of “some erosion// and ecology’s abolition.” She laments the looming destruction of nature even as that destruction portends the creation of something new. This tension is ingrained in moments featuring the gleam of winter ice, wild rivers, and biting cold. In Patterson’s vision, nature rarely gives without taking some small token in return. Her imagery is never overindulgent or stifling. She uses minimalism as a way to sharpen her depictions of emotions and memories.
Juliet Patterson is the author of The Truant Lover (Nightboat Books) and Threnody (forthcoming, Jackleg Press). Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines including 26, American Letters & Commentary, Crazyhorse …