Reviews for Manatee/Humanity

Booklist Reviews 2009 April #1
"Waldman brings her wild, oracular voice to the environmental questions that currently bedevil us, producing a single long poem in many sections, structured as a Tibetan Buddhist initiation called wang ("empowerment"), in which the enlightenment sought is empathy with other beings. The specific other in this encounter is the endangered sea mammal the manatee, a Pacific herbivore with "more gray matter in the brain than man," which Waldman sees as a kind of ancestral ocean presence: "the manatee is perhaps thinking archivally deeper than man / ancient days of manatee so many thousands of years . . . mother . . . mother . . . om manatee hum." Waldman uses both rhetorical and visual devices to demand our attention, but her work is predominantly incantatory, best read aloud: "you know ‘familiars / you recognize them by their entanglement / what had been restrained dew-drenched, whir of a loom / our beautiful desire will not pass by." One of Waldman s strongest books."

Library Journal Reviews 2009 June #2

Buddhist thought has inspired many American poets since the Beat era, perhaps few as directly as Waldman, whose latest book (after 2004's Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble) springs from her interest in Kalachakra initiation--a practice that moves the subject toward heightened empathy with the natural world--and a profoundly mystical, personal encounter with a manatee, transformed here into a metaphor for peaceful transcendence. Though this may sound like a recipe for New Age-y self-indulgence, Waldman skillfully synthesizes her meditations on the nature of consciousness, evolution, neuroscience, and threatened species into a vibrant poetic discourse, employing a variety of literary devices--litany, parallel texts, historical narrative--to channel the urgency of her ecological message. "Surely our conscious plans have precursors in animal brains," she writes, and by thoughtlessly slaughtering other species humanity risks erasing a critical clue to its own nature: "sentient being's connection to the visceral animal." VERDICT In speaking "for the wild universe," Waldman has contributed a substantive addition to the growing body of ecopoetry.--Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 March #3

This sprawling book-length poem from an American countercultural giant takes its form and concerns from a Tibetan Buddhist ritual and from the poet's close encounter with the endangered aquatic mammal of her title. This visionary verse and prose attempts "to describe the known world of any reach or stretch of imagination/ the relative world of death & change"; to praise the resources, but also to limn the limits, of ecological science, of all Western ways of knowing; and to imagine the whole of human and prehuman history, from the "humdrum Paleolithic" across "20,000 years of 'keeping' time once keeping it for all & moving it, time, forward, & it, the art, forward, & it, humanity, forward, & now they want to kill it really they killed it." Waldman's energetic odes and dialogues, part memory and part dream, may learn from the manatee "what it is to be human"; they also try to understand the nonhuman, from seaweeds and seashells to mammals, asking, "[A]re minds possible without language?" and answering that they must be. Exuberant as always-- though detractors will call her undisciplined--Waldman figures the gap between mind and body as the gap between air and sea, between the manatee's world and our own. (Apr.)

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