Dear Specimen: Poems

Beacon. Oct. 2021. 120p. ISBN 9780807007594. pap. $16. POETRY
What secrets do fossils reveal about the past? What clues will we leave for the future from this climate disaster age? What truths do the dying share with the living? In this 2020 National Poetry Series–winning collection, Herbert writes movingly about a world of extinction, using the lenses of fossils and storytelling to create an involving worldview. She presents Lyuba, a baby mammoth excised from the tundra; an extinct bison skeleton; and a jarred tern with a broken spine, as well as current beauties: wisteria winding around an arbor, a bird gracing a sick loved one’s window. The writer’s gift for deep seeing elevates even the smallest of details; she describes a centipede’s legs as “a tiny legion / yoked to the oar.” In a lesser writer’s hands, these poems might have been dark, even chilling, yet here they often uplift: “Yes, they will let me pet you, / dear Deer.
VERDICT In mostly short poems, Herbert describes a vibrant yet highly vulnerable world. Occasionally, the writer focuses too much on scientific nomenclature, but usually she breathes life into fossils, skeletons, and nature today, even our world in its current damaged state. A unique and thrilling collection that pulses with wonder; not to be missed.
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