cover image American Wildflowers: A Literary Field Guide

American Wildflowers: A Literary Field Guide

Edited by Susan Barba, illus. by Leanne Shapton. Abrams, $29.99 (340p) ISBN 978-1-4197-6016-7

Presented as a field guide with abstract watercolor illustrations by Shapton, this anthology offers a rich compendium of classic and contemporary writings inspired by wildflowers. The table of contents reads “List of texts, arranged by species,” in keeping with the motif that allows Allen Ginsberg’s “Sunflower Sutra” to appear next to Henri Cole’s “Sunflower” (both under the header “ASTERACEAE / DAISY family”). Certain authors’ works appear in a category all their own, such as Denise Levertov’s “The Message,” in which forget-me-nots (of the order of Boraginaceae) are described as “Ripple of blue in which are/ distinct blues. Bold/ centaur-seahorse-salt-carnation/ flower of work and transition.” Whitman and Eliot appear under the Oleaceae/Olive family, while Lucille Clifton’s brief “flowers” reads: “here we are/ running with the weeds/ colors exaggerated/ pistils wild/ embarrassing the calm family flowers oh/ here we are/ flourishing for the field/ and the name of the place/ is Love.” The poems, essays, and letters collected span from the 18th century to today, making this a prismatic and dynamic work. (Sept.)