This wasn’t what I expected, but it was interesting. I had expected a fair amount of science, such as environment and quantum physics, as seen and understood by a poet. Instead I found a study of what makes a poet, explained by science, plus some other interesting musings. Her image of “a magpie…picking up bright, oddly shaped ideas” in her introduction caught my eye, and is really the theme she followed. I have recently been reading other non-fiction about oddly shaped ideas, related to research into financial markets, and how they rarely follow expectations. Alice Major quoted two of the books that I read recently, by Benoit Mandelbrot and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which was a very pleasant surprise. How interesting that a poet and a stock analyst could find interest in the same sources! Her Alberta viewpoint was also very relevant to me.
I believe that the writer was trying to define just what it is that makes a poet, in her role as a relatively famous poet in Alberta. This should be of interest to anyone who, like me, who knows nothing of the poet’s skills and processes, and is entirely within her role as someone who represents the art and legitimacy of poetry. Although I think the book would have wide appeal, getting people to read it in the first place might be difficult, because it is not a topic of high visibility. It is not something I would pick up at a library or bookstore, for example, and only found it because of trying to find a non-fiction book to review for WordFest. Maybe I should widen my search.
I found most interesting the sections on how a poet actually goes about writing a poem. It’s not something I had ever thought about before. Maybe she goes on a bit too much about how much skill it takes to do that – it’s one place that I bogged down. What was interesting was her discussion of how many highly skilled endeavors (sport, science, music) can have child prodigies, but not poetry, and why this could be so.
Finally, Ms. Major, truly like a magpie, jumped around from one topic to a new one in every chapter. The book seemed to be more of an anthology of ideas, rather than a unified theme. That’s a good thing, and although I found some topics more interesting than others, it was fun to see where she would go next.
Reviewed by Doug Spensley