When I pick up a book of poems labelled “nature poetry” I expect images of autumn leaves, sunrises and sunsets, flowers in various stages from spring through the end of summer, tracking a first person reflection on life’s challenges. Roethke, Ammons, and contemporary poets such as Patti Anne Rogers craft authentic metaphorical images from nature, but for the most part nature poems can seem tired or forced. D’Aquino’s poems are deeply informed by the natural world, but his images are fresh, the reach of his poetry is into a fusion of the natural world with human experience that does not privilege one over the other.

Gander is one of the English-speaking world’s foremost translators of contemporary, living poets from Latin America. In his introduction Gander explains that D’Aquino lives a life apart from the central poetic world found in Mexico City, which Gander terms as combative. Instead D’Aquino has lived on the outskirts of Cuernavaca, in jungle-like vegetation where the poet has learned the names and uses of plants, and is an expert on the fauna. Gander and D’Aquino had significant face-to-face time, together translating each other’s works into their respective native languages—so fitting for a poet who translates between the human and natural, as if this is the node in which D’Aquino dwells. The poems are presented with the original Spanish facing the English translation.

While this volume is a selection of poems from several previous books, they are arranged in a way that gives insight into D’Aquino’s poetics. One of the first poems, a longer one whose last line gives the volume its title, is “Networks.” It begins:

resonant forms
internodes gleaned between dreams
cattails      grasses      circles

pale sapwood trembling tender
seed      berry      grass

the apperception of each blade
the distinction of each blade
and gaps gleaming between them all

crops of words
“the ten thousand growing things”

D’Aquino is building a concrete world of related particularity—the stand-apart, in lists—perceived, then merged with language, the “crops of words.” Attention is given to the things themselves, from the general to the particular, and the space that separates, but all in connectedness to create a whole as the wide-angle view zooms in. Perhaps the best place to capture the interplay between the natural and the written as found in D’Aquino’s use of language is that first line, “resonant forms.”

Note the Taoist “ten thousand things,” plentitude. In the longest poem of the collection D’Aquino draws from another ancient source, the Greek mythological figure Zagreus, a pre-figuration of Dionysus. D’Aquino is one of those thinkers so immersed in the particularities of place and life that the vision and vocabulary opens up to other traditions not in a superficial, buffet-style borrowing, but in a mastery of similarities that joins times and cultures.

Two poems further in the resonant forms become even more explicit in “Spores,” arranged on the page as lists of three joined images on each line, separated by a dot:

Rhyme and rubble  •  Lily and line  •  Bough and ballad

. . . .

Thought’s nut  •  Sonorous membrane  •  Lingual root

The effectiveness of this use of language on the page accumulates over 20 lines. The poem “Frond” is a concrete poem, with related stanzas appearing side by side, separated by a hollow “stalk” of space, seven paired leaves/stanzas that reach to the ground with the last line/frond,

While most of the poems here are shamanistic summonings, my favorite poem of the volume is one of the few narrative poems, during which the poet goes on a walk that leads to unexpected results. “13” starts:

As I walk, I’m holding in mind
two visions in counterpoint,
or better yet, two co-penetrating visions:
the carnal abyss where all empties out
and my vivid perception of airborne threads
that interweave and connect everything.

I pause to pick up a stone
and this act which I’ve repeated countless times
. . . .

As he “squint[s] fixedly” at the stone he experiences some version of a moment in time where connections are briefly made, with the violet filaments in the stone “joining the filaments in my hands / and emptying out in the lake of luminous air . . .” The very existence of the stone, he realizes, will “burn his hand” and “bruise his eye,” so that he flings the rock to his immediate regret; it arcs through the “luminous suspended sky” into the

mental depths of the lake
the elemental depths of the water
in its fall
to the bottom of itself

As I go on walking . . .

As usual, Copper Canyon Press has produced a beautiful book, and closely in time to another volume of Spanish poetry, edited again by Gander but of poems from multiple poets by multiple translators, curated by Raul Zurita, Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin America, also from Copper Canyon.


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fungus skull eye wing
By Alfonso D’Aquino
Translated by Forrest Gander
Reviewed by Grant Barber
110 pages, paperback
ISBN: 978-1556594472
$17.00
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