2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2012
In Toxic Flora, the strange and the familiar, the natural and unnatural, come together in startling and miraculous ways. In poem after poem, Hahn's meditations of the natural world segue seamlessly into insights about family life, relationships, and identity. The alienness of flowers that smell like flesh to attract bugs, or the ruthlessness of a praying mantis that eats its mate after copulation, become unsettlingly intimate when these poems make them metaphors of human nature. In "Sibling Rivalry" the warring wasp larvae that attack each other is compared to "siblings that obliterate everyone over dinner conversation." I love the very moving "Pinguinis Impennis" where the last pair of great auks is beaten to death in order to supply feathers for feather beds. "What dreams are worth such extinction?" the speaker laments, "And are they dreams I'd wish to own?" I like the longer poems such as "Demeter's Cuttings" which explores the relationship between a mother and daughter as the daughter grows up and begins leaves the mother, as well as "The Sweetwater Caverns" where the speaker articulates secret longings while within the confines of family life and middle age. In these poems the natural world opens up the inner landscape and make these psychological dramas more concrete and tragic. In many poems I wish the poems dwelled a little bit longer on the subject matter and opened them up further. Most of these poems are short, with irregular lines and paragraph breaks which gives them a kind of tense quality. The abundance of stanza breaks creates a lot of silence and staccato in these poems, so that instead of reading the lines fluidly to the end, you stop and start a lot, putting greater emphasis at the beginning of each couplet. For me this seems to impart a pained quality, a kind of tension rather than expansion, a fragmentation instead of unification. The poems reveal themselves couplet by couplet, taking dramatic turns and leaps from line to line, rather than follow one logical train of thought. At times I found the poems as a collection a little bit workshoppy, I find the more personal poems more compelling. But I also appreciate the fact that the poet wrote about issues such as extinction and climate change, very difficult things to talk about poetically, I think. I really enjoyed this collection and found it very sophisticated and surprisingly accessible.