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This review is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Cover of Trophic Cascade
Ian Pople‘After which, nothing was the same’

Camille T. Dungy, Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press) £24.00
The blurb to this beautiful book suggests that these are ‘Poems about birth, death, and ecosystems of nature and power’. And that sense of these poems having an agenda, and an obvious subject matter is clearly true. When the first person is used, it is natural to suppose that I is ‘the empirical’ Camille Dungy; so the power of the poems as ‘utterance’ is very strong. That close relation of narrator and agenda has to be traded off in a collection like this, where that agenda is both feminist and eco-friendly. And her poetry works these themes in ways which are always compelling and adroit.

Birth features heavily in this book and there are a number of very moving poems about pregnancy and the young life of a daughter. In ‘Nullipara’, Dungy asks, ‘What then shall I make of the four valves of your heart? / The twin seedpods of your ovaries?’ and at the end of the poem, ‘Your ten toes curl and uncurl through the sea / of my seeing.’ Dungy has a quiet skill with phrasemaking and these lines show both that skill and the quiet rhythm which infuses all of Dungy’s writing. In ‘After Birth’, that phrasemaking encompasses new mothers, ‘Common as suburban deer, the new mothers see human faces, human faces, all these windows, every garden trampled, every feeder / emptied to spite hunger not as lovely as a birds’. In a poem like this, Dungy shows how well she binds nurture and nature.

In the wonderful title poem, it is Dungy’s eco-concerns ...

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