Cold Pastoral

Rebecca Dunham. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-57131-478-9
Dunham (Glass Armonica) examines three water-related disasters in her fourth book, a collection of documentary-pastoral lyrics addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans, and the lead-poisoning crisis in Flint, Mich. She constructs a narrative of living in a time of spectacular ruin, ecological disaster, and insidious chemical endangerment, with the poet/speaker both proximal to and removed from their effects. To do this Dunham switches between poems of meditation and description (“Feather-vaned, the smoke/ flows up, black-// blooded as the oil plumes/ that will soon unwind// below.”), and those incorporating government documents, travel notes, media interviews, product descriptions, and other sources (“Used according to directions, Roundup/ poses no risk to people, animals,// or the environment. Just Pump-n-Go.”). She focuses less on ecology or landscape than on the human element of these events—rig workers, cleanup and rescue crews, children living in a poisoned world—and her experiences viewing them from afar or traveling to do research. Dunham makes it clear that beyond her and others’ personal experiences, humans have become subject to a ruin of their own making: “The only thing worse than the disaster itself is what happens when the world decides it’s over,” she writes. “All fixed. It’s a fact any survivor knows.” (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/20/2017
Release date: 03/01/2017
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