Book Review: Whale in the Woods by Blueberry Morningsnow

In Whale in the Woods, time or bodies do not act as constraints. Nature unfolds in splendor and horror. In this bold collection, Iowa City-based poet Blueberry Morningsnow possesses the voice of the natural world while still remaining very much herself: "You like me because I know how to live. I'm a giant throat in the earth. I kill and love everything."  If indeed, as Morningsnow claims: "My purpose is to write a poem that cries out." In this collection, she has accomplished that.            

What is experienced by the poet is experienced by everyone. What the poet feels in our bodies, we also feel in our bodies. We feel birth, war, pain, and everything in between. The result of this phenomenon is both beautiful and terrifying. The repeated images of eyes (which come in the form of children's eyes, the eyes of birds, the great eye of the whale as it crushes bluebells in the woods), it seems as if we are being watched. Not by a camera or any other modern device, but by the walls that surround us. Big Brother isn't watching. All of nature is watching, and we watch it back.

Morningsnow's writing is free verse at it's most stunning:  It is athletic, visceral, physical. The reader feels nearly exhausted by the end of the book, as if we ourselves have given birth to something. The form of these poems take on a life of their own. Leaping from long Whitmanian lines to diminishing decrescendos to blocks of prose, these poems both explode and dissolve. Adjectives provide a vehicle for the physicality of the poems:  we feel the deep heat of the blush in "the humiliating trees"; we nod in agreement that "Breath is the only thing that's fair."; the lake's "glacial lappings" resonate with things more ancient than ourselves.

In Virginia Woolf's essay 'Modern Fiction', Woolf advises the novelists of her day to "examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms." Now, nearly a hundred years after Woolf wrote this essay, Blueberry Morningsnow's poetic voice captures these moments of intensity in ordinary life. The poems that make up Whale in the Woods are intimately connected with the maddening cycles of life and death, tenderness and torture, family and strangers.

Blueberry Morningsnow is the winner of the 2011 Black Box Poetry Prize, judged by Sabrina Orah Mark. Morningsnow lives in Des Moines with her son and husband. Whale in the Woods is now available from Rescue Press and at Prairie Lights Bookstore.

Morningsnow will read from her work at 7PM tonight at Prairie Lights Bookstore. Listen to the live streaming of the event here.

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