Tell all the truth but tell it slant –
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise.
– Emily Dickenson
Guelph professor Madhur Anand illuminates so many slants that she sets up oscillations that will lead you into other dimensions and the amalgam that is left is curiosity and wonder.
Madhur is the inaugural director of Guelph Institute of Environmental Research. This is a house with many mansions - areas of expertise and research, complicated patterns of thought and individuals who have probably given it all they have got. I’m sure her plate is full, and yet she has room to publish a book of poetry after winning The Governor General’s Award for non-fiction last year.
Initially I was intimidated by the scientific erudition. When I asked Madhur how she recommended reading her poems to people who are not scientifically literate, she said – with patience and curiosity. “No need to ‘understand’ or ‘get’ poetry. Ignore the parts that you don’t like…But for the reader who has an open mind, my hope is that you discover things in these poems. A new word, or better, a new thought…..”
So I lingered with the text – which starts by referencing mathematical models of birdsong. The characters of physics, biology and mathematics are unveiled and act upon her various experiences and notions. Interspersed are glimpses of her personal journeys with her mother, her children, her life as a student, her inherent love of the natural world, her time in India, her shared interests with A.O. Hume, who was by the way, a 19th century British member of the Imperial Civil Service, a political reformer, ornithologist and botanist who worked in British India. He was also one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. Ah, history is another character!
The book ends with a long Whitmanesque prose poem. In her earlier poems, the physics, the math, the chemistry - are all breeding inside her head. But the longer poem beautifully renders how the life of poetry flows through her.
“That is how poetry arrives. With a picnic, other people’s poems, history.”
These lines arise from her time at a writer’s retreat that used to be Al Purdy’s home.
Reading a book of poetry can be like going to a foreign country. It can be colourful and energetic, strange, luscious, and yet at the same time somewhat unknowable. But we feel privileged to have visited. Thank you Madhur. Oh, and congrats for Parasitic Oscillations being CBC’s top poetry pick of the spring!
Join Madhur for her book launch at The Arboretum April 23 @ 5 pm. For more info or to rsvp contact firstname.lastname@example.org.