I recently finished Kimiko Hahn‘s Toxic Flora. The title is a little misleading, because plants are not the only toxic beings in this collection. However, the title’s sciency ring is quite fitting: this book is full of science, and that means it’s right up my alley.
The book is structured in sections which are separated by short prose segments, a sort of half-dialogue on sexual cannibalism as observed in spiders for example. What I like about the collection is how it places animal interaction, animal / plant interaction, and human interaction next to one another, inviting the reader to draw her own conclusions.
Among the creatures Hahn introduces us to are a tiny wren once native to New Zealand as well as a number of other birds, the strangler weed, orchids whose flowers mimic insect bodies, mollusk-eating butterflies (likened in “On Butterflies” to ‘a little girl / who tears apart a little friend // to eat his entrails’), yellow jackets, and others. There are also poems about the cosmos, about astronomical discoveries, about mythological figures.
However, the main themes that connect all of these poems are the mother-daughter relationship (such as Hahn’s to her mother and Hahn’s to her own daughters) and the predatory / toxic potential in human (sexual) relationships. Motherhood, daughterhood, food, and sex – the basics, if you will. In ‘Yellow Jackets,’ the speaker declares “[yellow jackets] can sting any intruder repeatedly / unlike the honeybee’s suicidal sortie. // I like that. I like X / who calls people out at brunch” — this quick, simple leap from insect toxicity to human toxicity is a good example of what makes these poems so interesting and enjoyable.
You can read some Hahn’s poetry online, including a few of the poems from this book:
- “Phantosmia” (Storyscape, issue 4)
- “The Soul” (Storyscape, issue 4)
- “Just walk Away Renee” and “A Meditation on Magnetic Fields” (Clementine Magazine)
If you like what you see, definitely get a hold of this book!