Robert Morgan’s The Strange Attractor (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.


Robert Morgan – The Strange AttractorRobert Morgan has been writing for quite a while, but this poet is new to me. The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2004) begins with his newest poems, & man was I knocked on my ass. The language is tight, the rhythms are beautiful, & there are some of the best science poems I’ve read. But before I get there, it should be noted, except for the science poems, most of these poems are narrative & deal with this world, particularly his world – his life in the country. These are the poems of a man whose hands are dirty & calloused. Meaning, the subject matter could be, for instance, about an odometer & a man sitting on a tractor, which is written in a colloquial language; but when these two aspects (content & language) are accompanied with the rhythms (often in iambic pentameter or loose iambs), then movement & poetry are made & meanings are had. In a sense, he is a bit like Robert Frost — both are poets with dirty, calloused hands who write with common language, yet produce beauty. And whether in narrative-country poems or in lyrical-science poems, there tends to be the desire to connect whatever world he is in with nature. Consider “History’s Madrigal”:

   When fiddle makers and dulcimer
   makers look for best material they
   prefer old woods [...]
   the older wood has sweeter, more
   mellow sounds, makes truer and deeper
   music, as if [...]
   it aged, stored up the knowledge of
   passing seasons, the cold and thaw,
   whine of storm, bird call and love
   moan, news of wars and mourning, in
   it fibers, in the sparkling grain,
   to be summoned and released by
   fingers on the strings’ vibration
         the memory and wisdom of 
   wood delighting air as century
   speaks to century and history [...].
                                                   (ll 1-3, 8-11, 12-18, 20, 22-24)

The science poems (which are my favorites & make me anxious for his newest collection of poems to appear & to also read Trunk and Thicket (L’Epervier Press, which is now Sage Hill Press), represented in this collection by the long, sustaining, & energy-gathering poem “Mockingbird”) try to connect the universe with the nature here on earth, & quite often the connection is insects. What’s significant about these science poems is they take difficult subject matter & by the transference to this world make them understood. Consider “Time’s Music,” which deals with Cosmic Background Radiation which originated approximately 100,000 years after the Big Bang & still flows through the universe:

   Insects in an August field seem
   to register the background noise
   of space and amplify the twitch
   of partners in atoms. The click
   of little timepieces, chirp of
   tiny chisels, as grasshoppers
   and crickets effervesce and spread 
   in the weeds ahead, then wash back
   in a wake of crackling music
                    in every bit
   of matter, of half-life in
   the thick and flick of creation.
                                                   (ll 1-9, 13-15)

And I think the following lines from “Mockingbird” best illustrate what the science poems are doing: “[…] where the / watt and kilowatt accumulate like / cells of honey.”

Morgan is also quite often grounded in detail, which of course makes abstractions like background radiation more palatable, & as Norman Dubie says, “Detail creates intimacy.” But I think “Exhaustion” best captures what is going on in The Strange Attractor:

   The earth is our only bed, the deep
   couch from which we cannot fall. Suddenly
   this need to lie down.
   The flesh will flow out in currents of decay,
   a ditch where the weeds find dark treasure.

Morgan, Robert. The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2004.//

1 Response to “Robert Morgan’s The Strange Attractor (2004)”

  1. July 10, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Robert Morgan is a soundcatcher of a poet and novelist. He knows the mountainous South and is kind enough to share his brilliance with us,

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