cover image Precarious


Allan Peterson. 42 Miles (SPD, dist.), $15 trade paper (92p) ISBN 978-0-9830747-4-8

The quirkily hyperarticulate Peterson (Fragile Acts) now looks like a quintessential late bloomer: after decades teaching painting, he and his poems have finally won national attention. Peterson's fifth collection, with its shorter, often sonnet-sized work, makes a fine introduction to his style, in which minute observations unfold into good advice about an intricate, interdependent, imperiled natural world: "Normal so called could be a day when sparrows/ build a nest in the gutter or someone swallows/ a button battery." Astronomy, ecology, and consumer technology enter poems as matters of daily life, sources of the sublime ("my moon app showing me/ thin phases daily loading the vast black first"), but Peterson also thinks about people in groups, from families to destructive nation-states. If we have "no other world adrift/ in the hall mirror," he argues that we do well to admire this one, where "the common is not/ alike each time and is therefore misnamed," and a newborn (perhaps a grandchild) is "special-delivered with an onion skin letter from the shivering molecules." From quick lyric (a departure, for him) to extended meditations, Peterson manages to think hard about human failings, and yet to find ways to appreciate daily life, in words as refreshingly strange as what he says he sees. (Sept.)