PrintMari-Lou Rowley. Unus Mundus (Anvil Press 2013).

Rowley, who has long been a science writer has also utilized her scientific knowledge in her poetry, finding wondrous images & symbols there. The title of her latest book  might owe something to Yeats, but she is as interested in the material as the spiritual worlds. In fact, as Unus Mundus implies, there is only the one world, everything there is is there. Yet, as one of her epigraphs insists about that world: ‘we bring [it] forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth.’ Unus Mundus therefore finds a fresh lyric mode to argue the affair between science & art, among other things.

In the five sets in Unus Mundus, Rowley demonstrates a wide range & a wide comprehension. ‘Space-Time Dialogues’ presents little dramatic arguments between past thinkers & modern ones, with wit & precision. If Plato tells us that ‘Time came together with the heavens so that just as they / were begotten together, they might be undone together.’ Einstein suggests there’s ‘No absolute bus stop in time or space, only the speed,’ while Roy Orbison chimes in:

All around the round world, just a wanderer, wondering
a voice caught in time so plaintive and fine
[Humphrey and Ingrid immortalized in melody]
girls all undone tilt their heads star-ward
pretending to be kissed
by just that kind of guy

All the ‘Dialogues’ jump through such hoops, with a smart delight. The ‘CosmoSonnets’ jump, too, but in a more specifically science oriented manner, yet always remembering the deeper connections: ‘Particle energy measured in electron volts, / the untidy oblate geometry of love.’ (And when footnotes are needed, the poet happily supplies them: ‘The Ramen effect is the inelastic scattering of a photon. How the heart heals after it I broken.’)

The two parts of ‘Strange Terrains’ get ‘Lost in Space’ & then come ‘Back to Earth.’ Where the poet can perceive the world we touch as we move through it, feeling ‘the ripple effect / of waves, skin / under fingers’. ‘Animalus’ is but a few pieces, a kind of prose-poem act of remembrance for those ‘lesser beings’ humans are killing off. Which leads (naturally?) to ‘Feral Verses,’ some of Rowley’s most striking, & stricken, poems in Unus Mundus. Here the human animal encounters ‘bone memory’ &

a dream of feathers

of flying, falling, running

out, down


Unus Mundus is a wonderfully challenging volume, in which both reader & writer join in an explorative journey through time & space, the human & animal worlds it reminds us are being ever more torn apart.

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