Review of Meteoric Flowers. Elizabeth Willis. Wesleyan, 2006.

Aryanil Mukherjee

"A girl is a grid", Elizabeth Willis writes, in her new book Meteoric Flowers. Perhaps a mesh of rooms, this grid, where each room is a pastoral space filled with all that our senses can afford to engage in. In subtle fragments of nature's decoy. What lives in these spaces ? Willis answers -

What lives in a room takes on the spirit of the room.

I'm tempted to pop up John Ashbery here - "The room I entered was a dream of this room." (This Room/ Your Name Here). But those are the lost words. "Lost words are boys", Willis would say. Her spaces are small vignettes that are her own, that are "needlessly swaying. Its path is busy eloquence" - an eloquence that is thick, rich, succulent and colorful like Rousseauian foliage, that simultaneously resembles the mellifluous brush strokes of Aban Tagore. The musical upholstery of Willis's poetry derives directly from these painterly brush strokes.

In her "Note on the Text", towards the end of the book, Willis honors her muse, Erasmus Darwin - "The muse of this book is Erasmus Darwin, the late eighteenth-century doctor, botanist, inventor, poet, and intellectual precursor to his grandson Charles." His book of poems, Botanic Garden is her catalyst. The origin of her deeply cerebral pastorals. She invokes -

Such a tree I think is sweeping out this country air, I am thinking about corruptions.

Its hard to think of corruptions, its a spiritual renewal that takes Willis across the flora and fauna, across the Andante Misterioso to the "grid" that serves as a plexus of the concurrent. Apparently, all wires seem unconnected, but, truly, they are one, trying to see "Something clearer beyond the polished glass." I am coerced to bring up John Ashbery one more time - "Uncertainty polishes the china to a mirror-like daze" (My Name is Dimitri / Your Name Here). Willis deftly sweeps away this androcentric haze.

There is no limit to a boy car, its floating night.

The poem blooms like a puppy.

Not a puppy made of flowers but like music, in dog years.

It would be a huge mistake to read Elizabeth Willis’s poetry as gender-conscious. However, her poetry beams readily with warm intelligence and a natural feminine beauty that entices me to compare her work with the poetry of contemporary Iranian women.

Willis's train of thought, especially in the Cantos, flow with cohesive intelligence where each line, like a caboose, connects the following, although the couplings are somewhere behind a steaming haze -

it's mist upon the blog. Let's fog the glass, forget the gallows and the digitized chandelior, the element of wonder.

While refreshingly obtuse relationships connect Willis's flora with the fauna, making the movement and transitions dream-like, several other apparently unconnected phenomena or things are also joined like braces join teeth.

No matter how far we flee from the Romantics, how much we distaste mystic poetry today, there is still a real mist somewhere out there, that wets the language, blurs meaning and is best felt when read alone. Willis makes no fuss about that, she renews the admittance with splendor -

What's wrong with falling into starry goo or folding against our dizzy inward heights ? This is what drives us farther out to sea, to look at our mess beneath the bleach and bluing of some other weather.

About the architectural elements of Darwin's Botanic Garden, Elizabeth Willis informs, “The poems of [Darwin’s] Botanic Garden are interrupted by prose footnotes, supplementary notes, summary descriptions, errata, and dialogues on the relation between poetry and prose, painting, and music. The prose cantos and lyric interruptions of Meteoric Flowers reverse the relation between prose and verse in Darwin’s work.” The inversions are apparent; the reader begins to see how the book-structure of Meteoric Flowers is also affected by the arrangement and classification of a Botanic Garden. The lyrical interjections of book-sections like "Verses Omitted", "Verses Omitted by Mistake", "Errata" etc. add the spice that was perhaps intentionally (or inadvertently) left out of the Cantos. Elizabeth Willis is an inspiring poet for the old crowd as well as the young practitioner.

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