Thursday, May 06, 2010

Oddfellows and Toxic Flora

Thursday late morning. I’m sitting at my new “favorite” place: The Oddfellows Hall Café next door to the new Elliott Bay Books! Dean and I stumbled upon it the other day when we were at Elliott Bay, and had a delightful time there, having our late morning espresso and snack. It’s a nice open space, very rustic, with restored wood and tables and funky decorative art from the history of the building and the “Oddfellows” -- whoever they were. And it is packed with students, hipsters, people writing or staring into their laptops, or talking in groups, or having little business or art meetings. It’s an ideal location being next door to Elliott Bay. You can go buy a book or a magazine, and then come over to the café to read, write, hang out. Perfect!

The other day, when Dean and I were at EB, I bought the new issue of Field, and two new books of poems, Leavings, by Wendell Berry, and Toxic Flora, by Kimiko Hahn. The Hahn book is amazing. I love it. Apparently she would read the weekly Science column in the NY Times and, when inspired, write a poem in response to it. The book has several themes or areas of interest: the strange life of flowers and the bizarre ways they have evolved: “Toxic Flora,” and “On Deceit as Survival” open the book with this theme, and Hahn extends it to the human world of parents, love, sex, and and parenting. Other poems look at the animal world, particularly butterflies and other higher insects, and how they have evolved. Other poems explore Space and the Cosmos: I particularly liked the poems about Pluto, and the poem about the 11 yr old girl Venetia Burney, who won a newspaper contest to name the newly discovered planet. Other poems include meditations on her own aging, and the ways she has evolved as a person, a wife, a mother, a teacher. Two particularly touching poems are: "Demeter's Cuttings" in which her daughter calls from a date's house, saying that it is too late for a train home, and that she will have to stay the night, and Hahn imagines her daughter as Persephone trapped in the underworld, and begins her own sleepless wait up for her to come home. And "Sweetwater Cavern," in which she is a tourist, being ferried across an underground lake by a bored college student in a hoodie, and he becomes a version of Charon, and leads her to embark on a consideration of her own death. Hahn's writing is spare, complex, unafraid of scientific terms and language -- in fact she revels in them -- all while being very witty, accessible, and sensuous.

Highly recommended.


Susan Rich said...

This sounds wonderful, Peter -- and so different than her last book. Thanks for this!

Peter said...

Hi Susan. I don't think I know her previous work. But this book has made me a potential fan.

Susan Rich said...

Peter, Kelli and I had dinner at Oddfellows last night. Divine food --- great space. I love it!