Orbis review

Very pleased to have a review of Drawing a Diagram in the new issue of Orbis, #179. The review is by DA Prince, whom we have published in Antiphon, but I don’t know her – it’s lovely to see that she very much enjoyed the book!

Edit: I’m taking the liberty of reproducing the review here. Orbis is a beautifully produced magazine that’s been going for ages, with a wide variety of poetry. A great feature is the reader awards – subscribers write in and comment on the poems they like best in each issue. Find out more here.

SCIENCE ISN’T SO FRIGHTENING: REVIEW BY D.A.PRINCE Drawing a Diagram by Rosemary Badcoe, 80pp, $14,  Kelsay Books (Aldrich Press), www.kelsaybooks.com

This debut collection brings together poems which circle in various ways around the ever-engrossing theme of time. More than most poets, Rosemary Badcoe is willing to tackle scientific and astronomical aspects but, helpfully, she knows how to keep readers on side. The book is divided the collection into three sections: The Wiring Plan; The Director’s Cut; and The Final Act. This last is a nod to the way in which the on-line magazine Antiphon, of which she is co-editor and designer, is elegantly arranged into a series of acts and intervals. In her writing, diagrams feature as metaphor and as a way of comprehending how human lives fit into the larger scale, with the title rising from the terrifyingly-titled ‘http://biochemical-pathways.com/#/map/1′. – ‘… the brain that peers inside itself, / sees life happen, and draws a diagram.’, an abstract idea made accessible. Besides, we’ve already encountered diagrams in the opening ‘On the Movements of Bodies’, eased into the science almost without realising it:

About the time that Newton wrote Principia
and every spinning object settled down
to orbit in its newly designated way

the dodo died.

Her science isn’t so frightening after all. Instead, it brings an energy and fresh intelligence to a theme that can often be predictable. The examinations of where we, as humans, stand in relation to the timescale of our own planet and the solar system are inventive, always keep human comprehension in the foreground. All the information readers need is in each piece: she doesn’t weigh down the final pages with notes but takes our language, our knowledge, as starting points. In ‘The international Celestial Reference Frame’ she shows us how a quasars are part of how we live –

We map our satellites against their constant spin.
Their distant calls become the frame
for knowing where we are, like crickets form
the soundscape for a poem of the moon.

She has a lightness, too, and with a pleasingly metaphysical approach. ‘Please Hold’ takes the form of a telephone automated menu: ‘To hear this message again, press one.’ It’s not an obvious starting point for a poem but the language of machine guidance is used to map our human needs: ‘Press four to indicate you’re searching for a meaning.’ And I defy any reader to stop reading at this point. At the end, it jumps free of the constraining form, and affirms that ultimately, we have choice:

… Press hash to indicate that that

is what you’ve made of things. Now cease
to give a toss. You’re born of stellar nucleosynthesis.
You’ve higher things to do than listen here.
Go fulfil your destiny. Press star.

Jumping, affirming: that’s what these poems do, adding up to a very enjoyable collection. The USA-based Kelsay Press, an enterprising publisher, with a website well worth a visit; is lucky to have this title on their list.

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