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Fugitive Atlas

I found Fugitive Atlas because someone tweeted about it--Omar Sakr, also a poet; the only way to consume twitter, imo, is by following poets--and I was both deeply impressed with the poem he tweeted and in between books of poetry. So I bought it, and I'm glad I did! This book is intense and complicated. Its themes are political and full of personal struggle against forces that are so large that they feel cataclysmic, more like bad storms at sea than choices made by humans.

Structurally, the poems in this collection are very diverse. One set of poems uses paragraphs of prose before ending with a couple short stanzas of poetry. E.g. "Plume" begins: "Deep under the affluent college town where I live, an hour from Flint, Michigan, there is a moving plume of groundwater contaminated with 1.4-dioxane." and concludes; "Angels, crimson, blue, / and gold, draped in poisoned quills, / ghosting the dusk below // the hours, let not your / fiery water / inflict upon us."

Another type of poem in the book is the 'alams, which are either a poetic form I don't know enough about to recognize or are something Mattawa has invented himself. I found them hard to read; three columns of many very short triplets, they seemed to me in a sense to be meant for every stanza to be read at once by a different voice, or perhaps to be rung out like bells. I would like very much to hear them aloud, performed by the poet himself or by his chosen performers.

My favorite poem is the final poem in the book, one of several "Beatitude" poems, which I think are all about the poet's daughter.


"Let's walk through the woods," she tells me.

"Let's walk by the rocky shore at sunrise."

"Let's walk through the clover fields at noon."

In the rainforest she is silent, mesmerized.

She'd never prayed--we never taught her--

but she seemed to then, eyes alert with joy.

She points to a chameleon the size of a beetle,

teaches me the names of flowers and trees,

insects we can eat if we're ever lost here.

"I'm teaching you how to entrust the world

to me," she says. "You don't have to live

forever to shield me from it."


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