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Jynne Dilling Martin's New Poems Capture 'Zaniness Of Being Alive'

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Nature has always inspired poetry - a yellow wood, a green shade, a moose that wanders onto the road. Well, poet Jynne Dilling Martin has had an extreme look at nature. That's reflected in her new collection "We Mammals In Hospitable Times." Tess Taylor has our review.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: Martin's got a big project - to write poems that contain the history of the species, the history of the Earth and the longings of the human heart as well. What's more, in her poems, she writes these all at once and very fast. Her book is propelled by urgency. To write it, she spent time in Antarctica on a writer's residency offered by the National Science Foundation. So she's aware exactly how fast our ice is melting and she tells us how when icebergs break, the noise is less groan, more wild animal shriek. She's seen how, in her words, the sea ice resembles a cracked white lung steadily swelling.

But you don't have to have been to Antarctica to catch Martin's urgency. Martin reminds us that we are each pilgrims since pilgrim means stranger, that life is mysterious and that, as she puts it, no doctor has a single lab result explaining where we proceed after death. Martin's title makes an unsettling wordplay. We live now in hospitable times, but we infer the radical inhospitality of the Earth to our lives for most of its history and perhaps also for its future as well.

For Martin, our geologic window is brief and fleeting and presses in on the margins of each poem. So Martin reminds us while we're here we feel and watch and project our human longing onto the myriad worlds around us. Her poem pilgrimages whiz between the lives of reindeer and protozoa and crows. They sink deep into the center of the Earth. Given how sobering the end of the world as we know it really is, these poems' sheer rocket-speed can seem glib. There are oodles of interesting facts to linger over in this book, and at times I wish Martin let herself slow down just a little. But when the poems work, they capture the zaniness of being alive, the sheer kinetic wonder of it.

The seal gnaws a hole in the sea ice, Martin writes. (Reading) Sunlight flashes on a million emerald cod flitting below. Quartz cuvettes filled with seawater and lavender dye slide into a spectrometer, colors the human eye cannot see fan out inside a box.

Please come in a dream, she writes. (Reading) There is no limit to what I want to know.

BLOCK: We were hearing about the book of poems by Jynne Dilling Martin titled "We Mammals In Hospitable Times." Tess Taylor had our review. She teaches poetry at Whittier College. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.