Review of “Drowning in the Floating World” by Meg EdenReview of “Drowning in the Floating World” by Meg Eden

Meg Eden’s landscape for “Drowning in the Floating World” is the 2011 Tohoku tsunami in Japan and the following Fukushima nuclear disaster. The poems are populated by people who are fully realized in a few lines. It is through this close focus that the big picture emerges. Huge horrors cannot be processed all at once, and the small details make it all identifiable and real in a way that a camera pulled back would not be able to do.

In “Response to the Brother Who Wants to Move in After the Earthquake,” the fear is palpable. “You are contaminated; / a power plant lives in you now. / There’s already radiation in your skin, / and I can’t risk you rubbing off on me.” In “Poem for the Sneakers Washing Onshore,” Eden makes the scope of the tragedy more comprehensible in a simple way that grows on you with each line. “we are the feet of salarymen / & the feet of school girls / & the feet of tennis players / & the feet of arcade gamers…” Some poems come at you viscerally and will stick with you for a long time. These lines are from “Tsunami Girl.” “It happened quite slowly: her pale flesh rotted, / slipping from nature, from her family’s thoughts. / First, her face, then hands, and only at the very end, / her hair. Only then was she counted / collateral in a city filled with collateral.”

Nothing is wasted in this writing. I can feel that every syllable, every comma, was thought out. Beauty and horror dance together in these poems, tied together by a felt humanity. I highly recommend this book.

Review of “In the Dark, Soft Earth” by Frank WatsonReview of “In the Dark, Soft Earth” by Frank Watson

(Disclaimer: I was given an advance reader copy PDF of this book for writing a review.)

Frank Watson’s  “In the Dark, Soft Earth” has a large scope. In general, Watson’s style is sparse and succinct. His descriptions aren’t grandiose but still encompass the entire world and time both ancient and modern. Some poems have a perspective that reaches across the centuries, like these lines from “time”: “these are the tombs / of a thousand years / grown green with the moss / of life’s decay” or from “each pulse”: “each pulse begets the night / each kiss engraves / a stone tablet that lives / for a thousand years”. Other poems cross vast distances, such as these lines from “maps”: “her breath / has blown me / across this half / of the waking world”.

Images thread their way through the poems – continents, campfires, sand, seas, jazz, and more. The collection is broken into ten books. Each book in the collection also has its own theme. Some poems are accompanied by artwork by such painters as Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Edward Hopper, and Henri Rousseau. Book 8, called “An Entrance to the Tarot Garden” consists of artwork from tarot decks, one poem for each card of the major arcana. I found this section particularly intriguing due to my own interest in the tarot. Here is an excerpt from “high priestess”: “she is ancient / as she is young — / and while we look / she stops to listen // she carries her robes / like she has worn them / for three thousand years”. Book 9, “Across the Continents” includes poems that are translations or inspired by other poets’ works. Book 10, “Stories Before I Sleep” steps away from the spare style of the other poems and expands to include sonnets and other works that have more breathing space than the majority of the poems in the rest of the book.

Every poem seems pared down to its essential parts. Even so, there are sometimes bumps in the road. Rhyme is used occasionally and there are moments when it seems accidental. When that happens, I find it more distracting than helpful. A few of the descriptions also stopped me for a moment, such as these lines from “in the dark, soft earth”: “so still, the universe / has barely cracked / and the grass stays silent”. I found myself contemplating the sound of grass, which probably wasn’t what the author intended.

There are wonderful nuggets to be found in Watson’s poems. My favorite lines are from “secrets”: “sunlight broken / into a thousand little sins”. A few other favorite lines are from “rhythms”: “oh, what she does / to me with her / cello strings” and from “tender flesh”: “she was a doe / with tender flesh / but the only / ones she loved / were hungry wolves”.

This volume of poetry reminds me of a tree in winter. There is a primal beauty in its bareness, none of the essential parts are hidden. If s stripped-down style appeals to you, I think you will really enjoy “In the Dark, Soft Earth.”