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Dear Specimen: Poems

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A National Poetry Series winner, selected and with a foreword by Kwame Dawes. A 5-part series of interwoven poems from a dying parent to her daughter, examining the human capacity for grief, culpability, and love, asking: do we as a species deserve to survive? Dear Specimen opens with both its speaker and her planet in peril. In "Speak to Me," she puzzles over a millipede, a A National Poetry Series winner, selected and with a foreword by Kwame Dawes. A 5-part series of interwoven poems from a dying parent to her daughter, examining the human capacity for grief, culpability, and love, asking: do we as a species deserve to survive? Dear Specimen opens with both its speaker and her planet in peril. In "Speak to Me," she puzzles over a millipede, as if the blue rune of its body could help her understand her impending death and the crisis her species has created. Throughout the collection, poems addressed to specimens echo the speaker's concern and amplify her wonderment. A catalog of our climate transgressions, Dear Specimen's final poem foretells a future in which climate refugees overrun one of our planet's last habitable places. The collection's lifeblood is a series of poems in which the speaker and her daughter express their concern for, and devotion to, one another. The daughter's questions mirror the ones her mother asks of specimens: what are we meant to do with so much hazard and wonder? When the speaker hints at the climate crisis in a bedtime story she tells her grandson, we, too, feel the peril he may face. Juxtaposing a profound sense of intimacy with the vastness of geological time, the collection offers a climate-conscious critique of the human species--our search for meaning and intimacy, our capacity for greed and destruction. Dear Specimen is an extended love letter and dire warning, not only to the daughter its speaker leaves behind but to all of us.


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A National Poetry Series winner, selected and with a foreword by Kwame Dawes. A 5-part series of interwoven poems from a dying parent to her daughter, examining the human capacity for grief, culpability, and love, asking: do we as a species deserve to survive? Dear Specimen opens with both its speaker and her planet in peril. In "Speak to Me," she puzzles over a millipede, a A National Poetry Series winner, selected and with a foreword by Kwame Dawes. A 5-part series of interwoven poems from a dying parent to her daughter, examining the human capacity for grief, culpability, and love, asking: do we as a species deserve to survive? Dear Specimen opens with both its speaker and her planet in peril. In "Speak to Me," she puzzles over a millipede, as if the blue rune of its body could help her understand her impending death and the crisis her species has created. Throughout the collection, poems addressed to specimens echo the speaker's concern and amplify her wonderment. A catalog of our climate transgressions, Dear Specimen's final poem foretells a future in which climate refugees overrun one of our planet's last habitable places. The collection's lifeblood is a series of poems in which the speaker and her daughter express their concern for, and devotion to, one another. The daughter's questions mirror the ones her mother asks of specimens: what are we meant to do with so much hazard and wonder? When the speaker hints at the climate crisis in a bedtime story she tells her grandson, we, too, feel the peril he may face. Juxtaposing a profound sense of intimacy with the vastness of geological time, the collection offers a climate-conscious critique of the human species--our search for meaning and intimacy, our capacity for greed and destruction. Dear Specimen is an extended love letter and dire warning, not only to the daughter its speaker leaves behind but to all of us.

45 review for Dear Specimen: Poems

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeri Theriault

    The speaker of these poems, fully aware of her own mortality addresses individuals--an extinct bison, a Least Tern, her own daughter. I love the weaving of the mother-daughter into the litany of creatures, the way the poet meshes personal human concerns with the natural elements truly underlines our connection with the earth.

  2. 5 out of 5

    MountainAshleah

    Goodreads Giveaway. We need more poetry, less Twitter, and so I'm always happy to support poets and the infrastructure that supports them. This collection is a beautiful addition to the poetic conversation, and I say that as a reader who doesn't like eco-poetry or pseudo scientific poetry or whatever it's called, no matter who pens it. Fortunately most of the poems in this collection are skillfully interwoven with a more observational perspective..."I see you fossil, this is what I see through y Goodreads Giveaway. We need more poetry, less Twitter, and so I'm always happy to support poets and the infrastructure that supports them. This collection is a beautiful addition to the poetic conversation, and I say that as a reader who doesn't like eco-poetry or pseudo scientific poetry or whatever it's called, no matter who pens it. Fortunately most of the poems in this collection are skillfully interwoven with a more observational perspective..."I see you fossil, this is what I see through your lens," rather than a poem that requires a brief introduction to its scientific basis. The title poem, for example, is so quiet in its approach and so very stunning; it's gorgeous, poignant, sad yet uplifting, everything poetry should be. The poet's use of the arc of human and animal and fossil life here is brilliantly achieved, the museum paired with the hospital, the home with the wilderness. To me that controlled arc organizing the poems is what makes them particularly meaningful and well worth reading again. Let's see more work of this caliber produced, and many thanks to everyone, poets to publishers and readers alike who support this noble cause, the publication and distribution of poetry, in such challenging, hyperdigital times. Highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. W. J. Herbert’s stunning book of poems Dear Specimen confronts the mortality of our burning world, the ongoing mass extinction of its ecosystems and animals, and the speaker’s own diagnosis and demise. From the haunting blue whale calf described as one “who tries to fill/ her baleens’ fringe, her low-pitched moans ghostlike” to the speaker’s daughter’s miscarriage, depicted as “a bowl of spilled bones,” Herbert is a master of imagery and elegy. Her use of the sonnet form is particularly deft in W. J. Herbert’s stunning book of poems Dear Specimen confronts the mortality of our burning world, the ongoing mass extinction of its ecosystems and animals, and the speaker’s own diagnosis and demise. From the haunting blue whale calf described as one “who tries to fill/ her baleens’ fringe, her low-pitched moans ghostlike” to the speaker’s daughter’s miscarriage, depicted as “a bowl of spilled bones,” Herbert is a master of imagery and elegy. Her use of the sonnet form is particularly deft in “Aerial View” and “Mounting the Dove Box”. In the first poem, a dove is killed by a hawk, which the speaker believed was well-hidden by her wisteria vine; then, as she mourns the first dove, the hawk returns to kill its mate. This shocking cruelty of nature’s design is reminiscent of Frost’s “Fire and Ice”. In the second poem, the speaker wrestles with the grief of losing her father, implicitly comparing his coffin to that of an empty mounting box. At its most searing, her contemplation of her own illness appears in “Water Scorpion, Magnified 40x”: “In Sarah’s nightmare, / I am scooped up into the air/ and carried into a lab/ where a biologist, pinching/ tweezers fixes bits of me/ to slides that he will study.” In the last section of the book, we are given one of the most poignant lines in the collection, which comes from a poem devoted to an extinct sea creature. The speaker asks, Lily, why do we have so little time?

  4. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Miller

    Dear Specimen is an anticipatory postmortem for the Anthropocene, a collection of persona poems in which the speaker is dying, remembering her father dying, wondering what kind of dying world her grandson will grow into. She examines preserved specimens of extinct species from the La Brea Tar Pits and elsewhere, knowing nothing precludes humans from meeting a similar fate—assuming, in fact, that we are hurtling toward just such an end, as she, on a shorter timeline, hurtles toward her own. Some Dear Specimen is an anticipatory postmortem for the Anthropocene, a collection of persona poems in which the speaker is dying, remembering her father dying, wondering what kind of dying world her grandson will grow into. She examines preserved specimens of extinct species from the La Brea Tar Pits and elsewhere, knowing nothing precludes humans from meeting a similar fate—assuming, in fact, that we are hurtling toward just such an end, as she, on a shorter timeline, hurtles toward her own. Some combination of accidents and choices brought her, and us, to this tipping point, intertwined with grief and beauty: We’ve been given, and are poised to lose, so much. The poems rest in the impossibility of fully comprehending our own deaths, our loved ones proceeding in our absence, and most of all, the planet continuing on without humanity. Tempted to close her eyes to the suffering, she persists in cataloging and contemplation, imagining the day when we, too, will be specimens to dissect—a species who obliterated so many others and ultimately ourselves, trapped in a fossil record for some distant survivor and unable to tell our own story.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    In Dear Specimen, a sequence of poems about the loving relationship between a dying woman and her daughter softens the impact of other poems which examine our species’ culpability for the climate crisis. Close observation of many of our planet’s beautiful, and sometimes brutal inhabitants, forms the backdrop for this poignant family story: its grief, tenderness, and devotion. In contrast, poems which explore fossils and the sweep of geological time offer perspective on the collection's themes of In Dear Specimen, a sequence of poems about the loving relationship between a dying woman and her daughter softens the impact of other poems which examine our species’ culpability for the climate crisis. Close observation of many of our planet’s beautiful, and sometimes brutal inhabitants, forms the backdrop for this poignant family story: its grief, tenderness, and devotion. In contrast, poems which explore fossils and the sweep of geological time offer perspective on the collection's themes of personal tragedy and species extinction. Dear Specimen was an inspiring read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mira

    Great book. I liked the poems which are packed with meaning.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peter Ackoff

    A brilliant and necessary work. The language is stunning and the poignancy of a dying woman and her daughter who are spellbound by the wonder and mystery of the natural world is magical. Narrative and lyrical poems about the effects of climate change on the characters and their world are equally compelling. A good read!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    This poetry collection, becomes a full story. We follow a parent and daughter relationship, and while the daughter asks her mother questions, the mother is asking the same questions of other specimens. This touches on parent sickness, ups and downs of parent/child relationships and even climate change. The way the author writes is absolutely beautiful and completely raw. Using bones, and animals to get what they want across to the readers. I hate rating poetry, because it is such a personal thin This poetry collection, becomes a full story. We follow a parent and daughter relationship, and while the daughter asks her mother questions, the mother is asking the same questions of other specimens. This touches on parent sickness, ups and downs of parent/child relationships and even climate change. The way the author writes is absolutely beautiful and completely raw. Using bones, and animals to get what they want across to the readers. I hate rating poetry, because it is such a personal thing. I know it is a must, so I will say... 3 out of 5 stars for me. TW: Death, Animal death, parent/child relationship. This was an ARC provided by Beacon Press/Edelweiss.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Ackoff

    I loved the poem about a boy wondering where the tide's cradle would carry him, about the daughter looking at a ghost fish, its tail flapping like a translucent scrap of linen in the wind--all the images of animals were beautiful and tragic at the same time, because the arc of the book was moving toward the extinction of so many species. I read the book twice because it spoke to my feelings of both despair and joy. I loved the poem about a boy wondering where the tide's cradle would carry him, about the daughter looking at a ghost fish, its tail flapping like a translucent scrap of linen in the wind--all the images of animals were beautiful and tragic at the same time, because the arc of the book was moving toward the extinction of so many species. I read the book twice because it spoke to my feelings of both despair and joy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    SuperheroLover

    Very beautiful writing, though multiple parts were too confusing. I rarely got the whole idea of a poem. The formatting was interesting and help me to read quickly as well.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Selena

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kereya Alexander

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paige Pagnotta

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hugo

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

  17. 4 out of 5

    W.J. Herbert

  18. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andre

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leanna

  21. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

  22. 4 out of 5

    Priyanka

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alice

  24. 5 out of 5

    M.L. Candelario

  25. 5 out of 5

    Madysen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nora

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Marinelli

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mila

  29. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Kalan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  31. 5 out of 5

    Nico Mira

  32. 4 out of 5

    xtianjohns

  33. 5 out of 5

    Dan Saputra

  34. 4 out of 5

    Zish

  35. 5 out of 5

    Glen Helfand

  36. 5 out of 5

    Silvanna

  37. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Cunningham

  38. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Gerhart

  39. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Adams

  40. 5 out of 5

    Edward

  41. 4 out of 5

    Micielle

  42. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  43. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

  44. 4 out of 5

    Apick

  45. 5 out of 5

    Amy Wigand

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