Ann Marie Mikkelsen’s extensive research has yielded a very informative book on the use of pastoral themes in twentieth century poetry. Her prime exhibits are select poems by Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery, but she also briefly covers works by Gertrude Stein, Lyn Hejinian and Lisa Robertson.
The poem exerts a magnetic attraction, largely due to its lyric intensity and the unpredictable development of its content: from a pastoral setting on Cornell’s campus in Upstate New York (where the “single creek” featured in the poem cuts through the Cascadilla gorge), to the capaciousness of its scientific quantifications of the cosmos and the apparent awe inspired by the poet’s realization of his place in the universal scheme, and finally to the surprising lament at the end of the poem.
Fulton leverages this episteme in the sonnet trio, “Triptych for Topological Heart,” to illustrate Western culture’s transition from classical religious dogma to new age secularism. The scientific theory of “topological psychology” describes the plasticity of human behavior and its propensity to adapt itself to a given environment. A significant part of this adaptation is the dominating role of concrete science over the increasingly subsidiary position of the closed-loop systems of myth and ideology.
Ange Mlinko’s new book of poetry, Marvelous Things Overheard, expresses our contemporary experience by way of micronarratives, using poetry’s familiar lens of myth, fable, and anecdote, and overlaying these with the received “truth” of the arts, science and technology as they are filtered through our national experiences and family histories. The psychological perspective, one that Mlinko surely sees as uniting us with ancients, discloses an unsettling arrhythmia at the heart of our existence in the modern world.