NONFICTION

Roget's Illusion

Marian Wood: Putnam. Mar. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9780399165467. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101624036. POETRY
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OrangeReviewStarIn language both delicious and precise, poems by MacArthur Fellow Bierds (Flight: New and Selected Poems) inhabit the realm of illusion and the human need for clarity. Here, she begins with Peter Mark Roget, known not just for his essential book of synonyms but for his essay examining an optical illusion in which a wheel moving forward appears (on film) to be moving backward or not at all, to explore truisms within history, language, and art: "Not symmetry. Not grace./ Just flint and form and a resin torch:/ to venerate the living world/ and keep the ghosts at bay." While she offers no definitive answers to Roget's riddle, Bierds presents myriad possibilities, from Faraday's consideration of candle and flame to walking dolls and tractors to cave paintings. Often using the form pantoum, a quatrain that repeats and spirals like a DNA's double helix, and the moth as symbol, Bierds shows readers that language and illusion can be transformative and revelatory: "Lamp. Matter. Symmetry. Why try to capture/ the world? Light as compass, wind as hinge?/ All the dust-shaped moths on their word-shaped/ pins."
VERDICT An important new book for readers interested in the intersections between science and art. [See "Ten Essential Poetry Titles for Winter," Prepub Alert, 9/30/13.]

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