Julia Rose Lewis – High Erratic Ecology (Knives, Forks and Spoons, 2020)
When poetry dates science, it’s liable to get awkward. It’s not that they don’t like each other. Perhaps they’re just too eager to please?
Science comes with a bouquet of wonders. Swirling galaxies. Brilliant gadgets. Chemical reactions and quantum physics. Things they think poetry would like.
But poetry would rather talk about their feelings, their thoughts. What’s it like to be a scientist? These discoveries are impressive, but they don’t mean much.
Not compared to people, and the things people do.
The common ground between these two, as Julia Rose Lewis shows us, is in the world of animals and plants. Yes, both enjoy nature, or a trip to the wildlife park. What they see there, they see in two very different ways; but they nevertheless see it, together.
In her new pamphlet, High Erratic Ecology, Lewis coalesces scientific and metaphoric syntaxes. Her poems – sometimes glitchy, sometimes prosy – give us Wordsworth spun through a centrifuge.
“Let me be an epiphyte, not a parasite,” is a recurring phrase.
An epiphyte, Google tells me, is a plant that lives on other plants without draining anything from them. A state of mutuality, then. Cohabitation – or, further: growing together. Growing together without taking.
Be prepared to read this collection with your search bar open. Parasite, epiphyte, phorophyte metacones, macrobiota, prophyromonias… the Greek and Latinisms abound.
But it’s all in service of a new poetics. One that attempts to meld the symbolic and the objective, with a reassessment of hierarchies in mind.
It is from ecology, after all, that we get our modern concepts of networks and nodes. Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome abides here as well. Something in the multicausality of nature, it’s many interwoven pieces, neither wholly part nor wholly whole, collapses our concepts of hierarchy.
The ancient temple of ideas is overgrown. Grasping, omnitendrilled nature clambers all over it. Multiplicity itself pulls out the stones. The pyramid topples. Epiphyte and parasite wriggle through the rubble.
Later in the collection, Lewis’s voice turns critical.
She quotes Mishler’s ideal of patient/doctor dialogue – “the technocratic expressed through a language of purposive-rational action, and the symbolic expressed through ordinary language” – and argues that “the dialectic can be further refined by employing the characterisations of figurative language drawn from literary theory.”
“We will proceed through a series of metaphors,” she tells us, “where each new metaphor changes one character or one relationship; the metaphors will cascade.”
Scientific language and literary theory make a brief return trip together, revisiting symbols from earlier poems, before closing with a rumination on the stethoscope.
To listen to the heart is the most intimate act. The stethoscope was designed to allow this intimacy to occur at distance. We then see vets applying them to animals. The doctor to the bear.
Listening and trust is the closing metaphor. The final poem is a last cascade:
Let there be a plant listening to a tree.
Let there be a tree listening to a poet.
Let there be a tree listening to a bear.
Let there be a bear listening to a poet.
Let there be a bear listening to a veterinarian.
Let there be an oncologist listening to a poet.
Let there be a poet listening to a poet.
In this world of mutuality, everyone must eventually listen to the poet. Including the poet themselves.
Julia Rose Lewis is certainly a poet worth listening to. A blooming epiphyte on the branch of literature.