cover image The Bottom

The Bottom

Betsy Andrews. 42 Miles (SPD, dist.), $15 (60p) ISBN 978-0-9830747-5-5

Andrews (New Jersey) offers an extended meditation on humanity's ecological impact and destruction of life beneath the sea in her second collection, winner of the 2013 42 Miles Press Poetry Award. In long lines reminiscent of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, and with the diction of Galway Kinnell's Book of Nightmares, Andrews's sailor-song rhymes spill over line breaks, conjuring a broken, exploited nautical world that she links to myths, atrocities, and blindness: "a jellyfish hitches a ride on a gallon jug called Tide/ finds itself in an unfamiliar ocean... a 17,000-gallon fouled sip to fatten the goose of the/ Chem-Fish, Fish Nox, Noxfire." While her word play and rhyme can veer into the cloying, the moral force and empathy upon which each section riffs and breathes is astounding. Andrews takes our familiar conceptions of the planet and its nautical history and reintroduces them with renewed urgency: "morning is a half-baked bird, a water-poet's nonsense, a newscast hulled like coconuts... and the sea?/ it's in the margins here%E2%80%94its teeny-tiny winglike fins folded in." Andrews's greatest success is connecting the plight of the sea with those at its root: "the starving bass ain't biting/ now that there's nothing to bite; their breakfast was plucked/ and trucked through the night... to feed bass who live behind bars." (Sept.)