Mari-Lou Rowley, Unus Mundus
2013, Anvil Press, Vancouver BC
$18, 978-1-927380-44-4, 96 pages
reviewed by rob mclennan
Relativity of Ursa Major
In the dressing room multiple images recede,
converge to a single point. Singularities are like this,
immensely dense and obsessed with themselves.
Hell is a black hole, the heavens a mirror.
The first hunters saw a great bear.
Basque herdsmen pictured castrated bulls
chased by thieves, rats gnawing
the bullock’s ropes.
Greeks of course saw a mistress of Zeus.
Castillo transformed into Ursa,
glorified or punished
depending on point of view
place in time
angle of index or refraction
right or left brain
sphere of influence
incidence of bruxism
promise and reward
trines and transits
When discussing Canadian poets who compose work relating to any of the sciences, the list is rather short. Off the top of my head, I can think only of the mathematics and physics that appear in Stephen Brockwell’s work, or the physics of Adam Dickinson’s work (I suspect there are more than I’m either forgetting or might not be aware of). Saskatoon, Saskatchewan poet Mari-Lou Rowley’s ninth trade poetry collection, Unus Mundus (Anvil Press, 2013), is composed entirely around and within the philosophy and science of the cosmos. As the author writes in her press release:
As a science writer who has become to be known as an eco-poet, I am actutely aware of the danger, as Heidegger states, of becoming “enframed” by technology—or not only being reliant upon it, but subservient to it. Yet I am also captivated by how the language of science and technology has seeped into mainstream use, mutating and multiplying vocabulary. How the concepts and discoveries of science fuel our hopes and fears. And how poetry can explore, challenge and celebrate science.
Composed with a prologue and five titled sections, Rowley works through myths from various cultures, writing the space of story, myth and image against hard science, from Ursa Minor to the story of Quetzalcoatl and Tezatlipoca, the “Effects of Microgravity” and “Ripple Effects,” writing that the “Big Bang a clash of deities.” (“Quetzalcoatl & Tezatlipoca”). Throughout the book, there is a mix of quality, and Rowley is best in those pieces where she is able to blend the stories of hard science, giving the impression that these are ideas that have sat with her for some time, finally working themselves into the immeasurably large spaces of poetry. The section, “CosmoSonnets,” is a playful collection of poems, and perhaps the most striking, blending her science through a language tight as a wire. In these, Rowley sparks new life in an old form, and thankfully so.
Try building a universe from scratch—
quarks on up. It’s true they travel in packs
of threes—red green blue—inseparable
as adolescents in coordinated fleece,
bound by gluons they eventually become one
proton or neutron with no colour at all. White
Madonna in need of a partner. Boys lined up
along the gym, buddies/anti-buddies growing
unstable, mesons that like to mess around,
turn into electrons and nefarious particles, spin
girls on their heels, carry them off by force.
Attraction electromagnetic they orbit around her,
make a quantum leap to the heart’s core
emitting a whoop and a photon of light.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012) and grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). The Uncertainty Principle: stories, is scheduled to appear in spring 2014. An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com