Review: Elemental Haiku by Mary Soon Lee

Chemistry is one of those subjects that largely passed me by at school. The chemistry labs had their own distinctive, slightly nausea-inducing smell, our lab coats were stained and shapeless, and the teaching was uninspired. While it was with relief that I abandoned the subject at the age of sixteen, I’ve always recognised that my limited knowledge of chemistry is a gaping hole in my scientific education.

I was therefore intrigued when I chanced across Mary Soon Lee’s collection Elemental Haiku, honouring ‘the periodic table/ three lines at a time’. Could I improve my understanding of chemistry through reading poetry? And how does one convey the essential attributes of an element in three lines totalling seventeen syllables? In her foreword, Lee explains her choice of form as well as her objectives:

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Mathematical forms in poetry 3 – Reflection Symmetry

My granddaughter was making Christmas angels. She folded a piece of card in two, drew half an angel shape on one side, cut it out and opened the fold. Lo! – a perfect, complete angel!

My granddaughter’s angel is a neat example of reflection symmetry; one half of the shape is a mirror image of the other. This is a characteristic of many naturally occurring phenomena: a bird on the wing, the reflection of snow-dusted mountains in the still water of a loch, the hexagonal form of a snowflake. Our own bodies have approximate reflection symmetry.

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Turtle Soup

Your grandmother’s, this set
of six. I imagine her, fine-boned and elegant,
serving turtle soup in these bowls. Delicate
as eggshells, they nestle in their saucers
while golden turtles drift
around their sides, motionless 
against a hidden tide.
 
Remember how we dived with turtles
in sun-sparkled waters of the Gulf;
how you admired their leisured grace,
the slow speed of their flippers
as they flew the sea like air. 
Remember how one night we watched 
hatchlings splutter from their nests, 
tumble down moon-
white sand to bounce
like pennies into hungry surf –
 
hatchlings as tiny as these bowls
that I will never use 
for turtle soup.

This poem was originally published in The Beach Hut

Review: Edge by Katrina Porteous

Katrina Porteous is a poet based in Northumberland, England, who focuses ‘on the theme of ‘nature’ in its widest sense, and ‘place’ in its deepest.’ This has led her to consider some of the profound questions that have concerned philosophers, religious thinkers, scientists and writers for millennia: What is the nature of matter? What is reality? How did the Universe come into existence? What is ‘out there’, beyond the confines of our planet Earth?

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Old Wounds

When they stripped the ivy from the oak, he could see
the scar – the trunk’s flesh peeled away
to expose deep tissue, fibre pale as bone
where a limb was ripped by lightning
forty years ago.

Perhaps the oak had welcomed concealment,
the stranglehold of ivy, green
through all the seasons, all the years.
Watching from his bed the play of light
and shade, he pondered

how memories abide in trees – he recalled
thorns like bone needles, neatly paired,
glinting through the silver green of leaves;
the fissured texture of the bark;
seedpods, pendulous

as crescent moons; and how fiercely that day
he had focussed on the acacia, its details,
so that he did not have to look
at what was on the ground, nor at the vultures
above, in holding patterns.

‘Old Wounds’ was originally published in 192 Poetry Magazine.

Turbulence

Upstream in pools where the water barely flowed but for a gentle kissing
of the rocks, a tremor in the mirrored clouds – water transparent as air, sprung
from the mountain’s flank, too cold for bilharzia-bearing snails –
we found a duiker
its hide beginning to flake, its eyes glazed,
its legs stiff. We tensed too, my brothers and I,
in the cold shock of our discovery. I had not known
death before. Not this close. This unexplained.

The sun’s heat bounced off the rocks, drew out the fragrance of the grass. Death
did not belong here. Take its legs.
Our feet slipping on riverbed pebbles, we dragged the duiker through the pools
to where the stream began to quicken, to leap over hidden rocks,
swirl in eddies against the banks. Near the precipice
the river’s tug became too strong and we released the carcase to the current.
It floated haphazardly, tiny hooves bumping alternately
against the wavelets and the sky. We ran along the bank
to where the river abandoned all containment and hurled
down a vastness of rock. The duiker disappeared
in that foaming plunge towards the mist-green Honde valley. Above us,
white-necked ravens rode rollercoasters of air.

‘Turbulence’ was placed third in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society Folio Competition 2020.