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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Kristin Johnson Awards Science Poetry Book Five Stars

Unmaking Atoms
By Magdalena Ball
Genre: Poetry/ Poetry: Science
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Ginninderra Press (January 11, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1760412821
ISBN-13: 978-1760412821
Rated: Five stars

Reviewed by Kristin Johnson, reviewer, author and consultant

Magdalena Ball, the author of eight collections of poetry (several in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson) as well as two novels and a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything, is a multifaceted author, but her specialty is verse, especially scientific, astronomical and physics-themed poems, with threads of anthropology, zoology and biology.
From a cursory review of the titles, you might not think the verse offerings and prose poems (there is at least one, a prose/verse hybrid) have anything to do with protons, neutrons and electrons. Titles such as “Pranayama,” “Gargantua Redacted,” “Woman with her hair loose,” “Most of Everything is Nothing,” and the intriguing “Shallots and Garlic” (based on an Indonesian/Malaysian folktale) all seem on the surface to be more literary than scientific.
Look deeper. Look with the wonder that physicists have when they observe the atom. Like atoms, words combine to make different elements, different states of energy (passion, anger, fear, celebration, grief). So it is with Unmaking Atoms.
How, exactly, can one unmake atoms? Through nuclear fission. How, exactly, can one unmake the illusions of our human lives? Through poetry fission.
In the first poem of the collection, “The Last Report of the Day,” Ball introduces a recurring theme that hovers throughout the collection like cosmic radiation: the death of a parent, specifically a mother. She references a renowned woman poet in the opening line.

“I saw you, Adrienne Rich.
In my dream we were
walking like old friends
conspicuously cool
our maps drawn
before we took up pens
eyes searching for something
deeper than the wrinkles on our skin.
I felt your hand, crooked with arthritis
brush mine
in the depths of my consciousness”
How do the longing for an absent mother and a famous poet as a mother-figure in this passage relate to atoms? Or this verse in the next poem, “Charitable Crumb”:
“mother, father, siblings, lovers
the loss that kept coming
like water
suspended over blue-grey stones.”
Loss, specifically the loss of a mother, is the atom at the heart of this collection, split and reassembled in myriad ways with a dizzying elegance and versatility. Although the poetry examines birds, exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, “loamy” soil (a favorite word in the collection), paintings as the subject of several ekphrastic poems (poetry that is in response to a work of art), yellow jacquard sofas, the sense of loss and wistfulness, of losing oneself in nature, science, literature and art, create the atomic chain reaction and the “Atomic Mess” that, in essence, is death. Those who have lost a mother will probably be saying, “She gets me, she understands,” when they read “Yellow Jacquard.”
However, matter cannot be created or destroyed, and this collection unmakes, and then reassembles, the words and images as well as emotions including the sense of joy that permeates Ball’s lyricism. That joy manifests in a “laugh that shakes the floor,” the line and curve that brings wholeness, a light “softer than the cut of love.”
The reader encounters surprises, such as anger and yearning for the same person/subject within the space of a few lines:
“your feathers rise
poison in your beak
brightens the plumage
rainbow body, earth to water
water to wind
all I know: the taste in
my mouth says find you
find you find you”
The “you” in the poem has “poison in your beak,” and yet Ball’s narrator yearns for the subject. A subtle commentary that what we love is not always sentimental or full of hearts and flowers, and that loss is painful.
We often create meaning, and different elements, by unmaking and reassembling aspects and details of our lives, misconceptions and words said and unsaid. This is the power of Ball’s poetry, especially in this collection.


Kristin Johnson is a prize-winning/prize finalist writer, blogger, ghostwriting/creative writing consultant, screenwriter, and editor. A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing Program from the University of Southern California, she has published/collaborated
on six books and has ghostwritten several books (and scripts) for clients that acknowledge her contribution. The Internet etiquette self-help book AIN'T "U" GOT NO MANNERS (A Vegas Publisher) is her latest book.
Visit http://www.augnm.com/ and http://www.kristinjohnson.net.
She is on Facebook at facebook.com/AuthorKJ, facebook.com/augnm. 
Find her on Twitter @AuthorKJ.


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1 comment:

Magdalena Ball said...

What a thoughtful, wonderful review. Thank you so much Kristin (and Carolyn).