All the Spectral Fractures by Mary A. Hood (Shade Mountain Press, 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
What are the cross-sections of life? What are the spaces we find ourselves returning to, again and again, despite new paths, new interests, new obligations? In All the Spectral Fractures, the new poetry collection by Mary A. Hood, we find potential answers to these questions. We find the poet, whose life siphons the lives of the vast world, human and non, into the represented form. The image is glistening in this form, an ever-evolving, ever-adapting portal into the swirling channels that carry us through multiplicity in our evocative world of systems, taxonomies, and scientific inquiry.
When the air is that
certain apocalyptic clear,
I think I hear your voice
like the cry the wild boar makes
when trapped in a wire cage.
from “Ellen Youngblood / Lament” (in Opatoula)
All the Spectral Fractures collects eight collections worth of poetry between its vast breadth. At 238 pages, this is truly a tomb of the poetic life that has been explored thoroughly, into countless crevasses and corners, by Hood and her complex interests. Hood, a microbiologist, educator, traveler, and artist, shows her identities and their consistency throughout these books.
White Science, for example, is a book of verse posing the story of the female scientist, Sarah Goodbones, who visits the “renowned Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, Physiology and Biochemistry at the prestigious USA Medical School in quest for the truth.” The book is as ravishing as it is stark in its criticisms of not only the ivory tower, but the dominance of masculine thought. Through moments of absurdity to a cold spiriting through the vacuous environs faced by contemporary scientists, Goodbones arrives to a space of empathy but one that still feels distanced, chilled. Originally published in 1999, this iteration of that critical poetry remains relevant, fresh, and truthful still.
Where pink flamingos drink, cement blocks inked to look like
rocks and vinyl emerald lily pads line plastic wading pools.
from “Yard Art” (in In the Shadow of Pelicans)
The opening sequence, a book called Opatoula, is perhaps the most remarkable of all Hood’s poetry, both in concept and in elegance. The work describes through individual poems the lives and stories of the women of a place called Opatoula, which exists “on the Southern coast.” While the place and its women carry spotlight that may be fictional, the stories read like exquisite preservations of lost voices. Lost amongst the town’s din of bars and churches, which Hood recognizes right from the beginning, but also lost (like many voices) through the noise of the everyday. Hood’s work here is undeniably feminist in its counteracting toward the patriarchal norm of the image, of the American grain, of the world that has been constructed over hundreds of years. Hood’s work here is also captivating merely in its essence of narrative telling: the lives of these women are incredibly intricate, textural, and offer a reality of small town life that often escapes from the common, anticipated experience of the average reader. This book was originally published in 1993, but appears to offer a degree of significance in the era of the ghostly virtual world that uplifts, arouses, connects. That it does so through the bond of extraordinary women is fantastic.
Those who have learned
the language of stars
of bees of genes of atoms
are unable to speak the language
of the heart.
from “Songs of the Laboratory” (in White Science)
These cross-sections of feminism and anthropology are carried along into spaces of the marvelous. Hood’s background as a biologist reinforces that variety of image presented in the book, and there is an entwining with ecological principles that extend from the early works well into the later books So as Not to Go Unremembered (2015) and Love of Land and Lake (2014). With clarity of place and identification of the ideal, natural community, Hood arrives to additional critiques of industry, pollution, and a terrorized landscape. It helps that Hood can write of that ideal image, from the birds to the beaches to the universe of insects, as the portal returns to allow for a tweak and corruption of that image. This polarity exists, of course, on a spectrum, and morphs throughout Hood’s various poetic periods and publications. But through the course of All the Spectral Fractures, as the title of this collection implies, the book offers huge prevalence of and assertion for juxtapositions of the natural across time and space. To see the reoccurring elements of Hood’s vision, of her world, as patterns that emerge like tides rising shorelines leave additional context and meaning. Here again we have the cross-sections of life as a construction through and of time. Here again we see the bounty and the beauty of the return, of the reassessed, and with Hood, it is palpable through those value systems alluded to above. There is feminism. There is ecological activism. There are offerings of hope, of struggle, of work.
How can I think of death when my thoughts
are filled with the texture of hickory bark,
the rasp of dried milkweed, the crackle of Queen Anne’s lace
when turkey tracks write Sanskrit in the snow
and deer tracks quote the poetry of Zen?
from “The Juxtaposition of Being” (in Because Time Diminishes)
This writ would be truly lacking if a comment on Hood’s language was withheld. The language bobs up like buoys in the ocean. The language erupts like steam from boiling water. It comes and goes like sunlight. And yet, when it is present, when it is noticeable, it provides constant enticement. Reading “In the waters below undulating parasols / drift wit the current, the medusa with tentacles / that clutch or float free like umbilical cords cut.” is the type of sequence that evokes incredible visions of incredibly familiar though exotic spaces and situations. These moments, these snips of the vine of Hood’s poetry, are mesmerizing. They channel so much energy into the reader, yet are poignant while being concise. They are injections but they feel calm. They are scrapes but through scratching feel soothing. To read Hood’s verse is to become surprised through its elegance, yet churned by its force. The vocabulary of science meets the heights of a trained poetic ear. This collaboration of two areas of the artist’s mind is calm and will be taken for granted, but offers so much bite and grip that I imagine each reader being jerked into the poems at extraordinary moments of fixation and relief.
The black bird’s stringy twang
The spoon playing of spring peepers
The high percussion of creek running
The snare drum of rain
The brassy whine of robins
The oboing of wood frogs
The piccoloing of wood thrush
To this spring music
from “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Mailbox” (in So as Not to Go Unremembered)
Much of this collection is about a demonstrated breadth. All the Spectral Fractures indeed offers a significant and awe-filled space to not only read great poetry, but read through the visions, that image, of Mary A. Hood. It is a book to return to, to covet, to pull ideas and language from over time. As its older works demonstrate already, the poetry ages quite well, and yet there is new poetry within that could offer additional arousals in decades to come. That Shade Mountain Press has offered this collection to the world is gracious, and will alter the lives of many readers of American poetry.
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All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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