Every week, we shine the light on a book from our collection – one which is new to the library, which has been particularly enjoyed by a borrower, recommended by a volunteer, or which seems salient to the week’s events or happenings. To see the archive of past books of the week, click here.
The current book of the week is…
Flora Poetica ed. Sarah Maguire: 19-25 April 2019
We’ve made it through another long, dark winter and it is finally Easter. What better way to celebrate than by stepping out into the big, wide world? Flora Poetica, edited by Sarah Maguire, is the perfect anthology for just that.
This book of ‘botanical verse’ pulls together poems about flowers, plants and trees to revel and luxuriate in the richness of the botanical world. Poems are organized by species (Aquifoliaceae: Holly Family, Ericaceae; Heather Family, Gramineae: Grass Family etc). This means you could have a medieval lyric comparing God to a rose right next to a poem reflecting on “the blood-red flower of revolution” in the 20th century experiences of African-Americans. The collection juxtaposes the ways plants are read, anthropomorphized, become symbolic: meditations on each of their personalities and places in the world. These create contrasts and echoes in how the plants are evoked. Snowdrops “risk joy // in the raw wind of the new world” (Louise Glück), and “winter lingers in its icy veins” (Anna Laetitia Barbauld).
Maguire is careful to choose poems and poets both familiar and surprising. There are the usual suspects of recognized nature writers like John Clare and Thomas Hardy. But there are also new names, or writers we may recognize but not immediately associate with the language of flowers: Allen Ginsberg, Vicki Feaver, Seni Seneviratne. Similarly, there are plants we might expect to be poeticized: daisies, daffodils, roses, but also the ‘dragon-tree family’, onions and pokeweed. It captures the vastness and possibility of the natural world, and reminds us of the many ways it can be used to frame our experiences.
The collection is inevitably about so much more than plants. Maguire writes in her introduction about the gendered depths of floral writing, for instance as a way for Victorian women to write unstifled about sexuality and power (see Dickinson on clover, ‘There is a Flower That Bees Prefer’). Flowers can be political – common English weeds given gravitas and dignity. Plants become the context, environment, and metaphors for our lives, with poetry as a way to explore and describe “the routes [the writers] have travelled, the roots they have set down, or the roots and routes they’ve lost”.
Flora Poetica reminds us how inspiring it is to see the world through a botanical lens: to watch things thrive and grow and die, with their deep taproots and kaleidoscopic colours. And now, at the beginning of spring, is the perfect time of year to take that extra bit of time to notice.