In A Modern Herbal by Amy Glynn, poems divide into two sections of old world and new world plants, launching in a love affair with coffee, which begins “Wake up, you, and appreciate the great/ Olfactory aubade the beans dictate…” then ends with “What was I, in the ocean of before?/ Come, drink this while it’s hot. We’re at the shore/ Of something vast – I know that much. I know/ However much you give me, I’ll want more.”
Throughout the book, poems often address “you,” which might mean a significant other, you the reader, or the plant itself. For example, in “Peach,” the opening line is “For you, sweet thing, only the orchard’s great/ voluptuary, sugar as heat/ mirage….” which obviously means the peach, but other endearments in the poem such as “love,” “darling,” “sweetheart,” “dear,” might refer to the peach or a person, marring the momentum that could be used to build a relationship with either and most likely keep the sweet talk from occasionally coming across as inconsistent or insincere.
Nevertheless, the subject and artistry of these poems continued to draw me as anything natural almost always does. Indeed, slender volumes on herbs pop up like wildflowers on my bookshelves, and this little hardback with its well-chosen cover not only fits well, it highlights mythical stories, medicinal properties, and beauty that make herbs perennially enticing.
In addition to this ongoing interest, I requested the review copy, which Measure Press kindly sent, because of the promise of traditional forms in which these poems excel. Some poems such as “Narcissus” skillfully use enjambment to soften rhyme and iambic pentameter as sentences wrap around the lines, recreating myth by saying, for example, “the narcissistic tragedy is never/ too much love of self – it’s not enough/ self to love, self-image as a clever/ forgery, compounded of the stuff/ (praise, blame, desire) we absorb. What mattered/ was not Narcissus falling for his own/ image, but failing to discern a known/ entity in the vision that had scattered/ to breeze-blown ripples….”
In “Figs,” lines start with an a/b/a/c/b/a rhyme scheme before playing with meter and the sound echoes of alliteration, for instance, in the opening line “A day or so, from decadence to decay….” In “Rue,” the use of a villanelle seems effortless and admirably conversational. And, in “Pomegranate,” the quatrains steadily call forth their true and slant rhymes in an a/b/b/a pattern varied a couple of times with a/b/a/b. But it’s the opening verse that engages us with words and thoughts we can identify with, “Remember: it was always going to be/ like this between us. You were always leaving/ and I was always left. The self-deceiving/ perception at the heart of tragedy….”
“Dandelion,” the herb and the poem, is one of my favorites as “the heavy things grow very light/ and fade, like light, part particle,/ part wave, all fractional, to white./” Although I might have ended the poem with “The wind can bear it,” exquisite lines in the body of the poem remind us, “Flight/ requires us to be more air/ than body. Even voices weigh/ too much to carry.”
The last poem, aptly entitled “Bittersweet,” captures the tone of the book, the herbs, and poetry in general, where, “for some conditions there are simply no/ remedies. Try it: tear the heart-/ shaped leaves, pull all the cloying fruits apart./ When you least expect it, they will come back, new/ stems from old roots.” Although this might seem like “sorry recompense/ for all your effort,” highly gifted poets like Amy Glynn who continue in this root and vein will find poetry writing and poetry reading to be both remedy and release for that “Heightened sense” – that common ground and uncommon malady often experienced by sensitive poets and serious lovers of poetry.
A Modern Herbal, Poems by Amy Glynn, hardcover