(Glenview, IL: Glass Lyre Press, 2019)
If you have enjoyed the works of Mary Quade, either Guide to Native Beasts or Local Extinctions, or are enamored with molecular biologist and field ecologist Katherine Larson’s poetry collection, Radial Symmetry, Mary Peelen’s Quantum Heresies is another that should be nestled amongst the books on your shelves. In Quantum Heresies, the humanities and the physical sciences collide. In the opening poem, for example, we explore the variable x, which “obeys algebraic laws, / but resists particularity.” “It is the placeholder / of uncertainty // like the notion of / God.” Peelen reminds us that we must not withdraw from the tangible world but rather sink into, and sometimes through, our concrete surroundings and the physical laws which govern them to find the kinds of beauty that could only be unexpected.
Peelen demonstrates a magnificent attention to sound. For example, she writes that zero was “a space that ached / like an unmoored ghost.” The repetition of the vowel sound in the “space that ached” brings that throbbing to life. Sonically Peelen also sharpens parallelisms. For example, the “garden hose is a thin green line. // We don’t notice the way it curls inside.” The matching vowel sounds in the final syllables of these two lines tug at us to fully realize the connection and to then unpack the juxtaposition more thoroughly. Additionally, in “Birds of Japan,” when exploring the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, an internal slant rhyme, with a hint of sing-song, heightens the sense of skepticism: “officials insist there’s no public health risk.” The collection brims with sonic mastery.
Peelen’s poetry is timeless. She weaves together the historic, the long-lived, and the developments of the present so naturally that centuries blend together more like one minute might blur into the next. In “Periodic Table of the Elements,” we discover “gravity” and “global disasters” might be the G in “OMG,” and our own experiences are grouped with the company of biblical floods and unstable isotopes, to name a sampling of the historical and scientific matters included. Through these connections, Peelen reminds us of the utter importance of our own imperfect experiences and existences.
Quantum Heresies is a book for the hopeful and the hopeless and a reminder that many, perhaps all, of us are a semblance of both, and that is something gorgeous. Mary Peelen’s voice deserves its own contemplative weekend, one during which you can whisper, at a minimum, the lines aloud. Quantum Heresies abounds with gracefully lyrical poems to which the reader will likely return again and again for an exquisite perspective.
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Heather Lang Cassera serves as World Literature Editor for The Literary Review. She holds an MFA in Poetry with a Certificate in Literary Translation from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In 2017 she was named Las Vegas’ Best Local Writer or Poet by the readers of KNPR’s Desert Companion. Her poems have been published by or are forthcoming with The Normal School, North American Review, Pleiades, South Dakota Review, and other literary journals, and have been on exhibit in the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery. Heather curated Legs of Tumbleweeds, Wings of Lace, an anthology of literature by Nevada women, funded by the Nevada Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts. At Nevada State College, Heather teaches Composition, Professional Writing, World Literature, and more, where she serves as Faculty Advisor for 300 Days of Sun. www.heatherlang.cassera.net