This stunning collection from the award-winning poet Linda Gregerson examines the intersections of history, science, and art.
Touching on subjects as diverse as a breakthrough discovery in cell biology and the films of Ingmar Bergman, the anatomy of a possum and the Nazi occupation of Poland, Gregerson seeks to distill “the shape of the question,” the tenuous connection between knowing and suffering, between the brightness of the body and the shadows of the mind. “Choose any angle you like,” she writes, “the world is split in two.” Longtime readers of Gregerson’s poetry will be fascinated by her departure from the supple tercets in which she has worked for nearly twenty years: Magnetic North is a bold anthology of formal experiments. It is also a heartening act of sustained attention from one of our most mindful American poets.
In the searching, extended meditations of her fourth collection, Gregerson (Waterborne) draws relationships between disparate subjects and historical periods with masterful assurance, trying to head off the dizzying sensation of loss or perhaps to prolong its effects. Often, the desire for divine reassurance is tempered by a cerebral wryness in response to witnessing desperation and suffering firsthand. In a poem about September 11, Gregerson writes, "There are/ principles at work, no doubt:/ beholding a world of harm, the mind/ will apprehend some bringer-of-harm"; intellectualization artfully circumvents uncontrolled emotional response. Gregerson's elastic line lengths and flexible stanza structures figure her poetic access to recent and remote events and people, which are interwoven to create a fabric that can withstand the present. Gregerson self-consciously strives toward an understanding of universal order she knows she can never have: "The world so rarely/ let's us in." The poems are strongest when Gregerson's local, natural world becomes a portal to the metaphysical, and poems on mythological subjects and other artists are at times less moving. But at her best, Gregerson's compass points surely through a landscape in which "what was/ the future cinnabar, saffron, marigold,/ quince becomes the past."