Approaching Ice

Elizabeth Bradfield, Author . Persea $15 (102p) ISBN 978-0-89255-355-6

Few books of new poems stick as tightly to one topic as Bradfield's second effort: a long set of poems about polar explorers, from a 19th-century “freeze-up/ on Hudson Bay, the limestone pools inset/ with Precambrian shell,” to the fatal expedition of Robert Scott, from James Weddell to Louise Arner Boyd, a “California socialite turned explorer” who “never married/ but lived with Greenland as hearth and lodestone.” Prose poems built around sentences about ice from Nathaniel Bowditch's The American Practical Navigator interrupt what would otherwise be a steady chain of verse portraits, poetic snapshots, and adventure tales about expeditions to the coldest and least hospitable places on earth. Dogs and ponies are sacrificed, or sacrifice themselves; seals, at home in the cold, show by contrast how alien these “unintuitive lands” remain for us, with their “proof/ that imagination is not useless.” Bradfield, who lives on Cape Cod, assembles memorable facts about faraway sites and exciting, rough lives. Too often, though, it's hard to see what benefit those facts and those sites get from their incorporation, not into essays, museum exhibits or documentary films, but into poems. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 12/21/2009
Release date: 01/01/2010
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