Particle and Wave by Benjamin Landry

9780226096193I’ve been encountering a lot of what I call “science poetry” lately. These collections delve into a variety of science or scientific principles to act as the impetus for the poetry. On a theoretical level it is intriguing, this usurping of science’s logical claims to truth to reformat them into the uncertain and undefinable realm of poetry. These “science poems” when successful present the abstractions of life and experience hidden amongst the definable mechanics of the sciences. Benjamin Landry’s first collection Particle and Wave attains this metamorphosis. The Periodic Table acts as an exploration of mythology, family history, and an interrogation of poetry. Landry’s poems offer an experience that is not rigidly fixed in one defining moment. Instead his collection shows a constant erasing of boundaries and negation of accepted knowledge. This destabilization erases what is believed known and calls into question the history leading to the present moment. The structures of the poems enhance this. He cycles through verse, prose, and erasures in a crafting of a theory which can ground his explorations.

Landry’s book is building the world which he inhabits. The atoms of the Periodic Table become much like the phoneme, a base component of creation. Whether is it a construction of language or the material world both atom and phoneme are the means to explain the existence of their respective objects. The poems however, subvert that and instead these origins are not viewed as proven fact, but more as a means by which to inquire. They reach towards uncertainty and hope for revelation. They accept that there are moments of history and memory that are absent or that never existed and it is this place the poems speak.

From Oxygen
The sound from the culvert
was not nothing.
It might have been the sound
of solider ants
clenching their mandibles
in their sleep, dreaming


of swaths of leaf
for cutting. Or


stars, perhaps,
skirtching across
night’s chalkboard.

Landry practices manufacturing mythology as a way to come to understanding, much like the Greek gods explained the sublime phenomena of nature. The first poem Hydrogen poses for the reader to:
“Imagine the heat generated/by Daphne transformed into laurel/and you can begin to feel /what the electron feels/in renouncing its steady orbit./…Daphne was, of course, an ordinary girl:/desires not especially volatile./ She, too, forgot her terror, nodded off/in the glow of a star appearing/to explode for billions of years. “

Daphne exists as both a person and the myth. She is the laurel tree and a symbol of poetry and the poet’s desire that cannot be possessed. Landry offers a passionate plea to close the gap between memory and the present, the poet and the poem, as well as the lover and the loved.
Metamorphosis becomes an engine through which these gaps can hope to be filled. The human experience becomes a series of crafting theories and the testing and rethinking of these theories. The poems avoid didactic and pedagogical pitfalls which could threaten a detached stance of a statement as opposed to immediacy of exploration. Instead, these poems are always struggling and interacting constantly maturing as the collection progresses.

I am particular drawn to the poems which explore poetry is and its role in society. They constantly draw attention to the malleability between physical and emotional experiences. It is in these poems; especially Ununoctium, where inquires posed by Landry about the human and the unknown meet on constantly shifting borders.

Everywhere one turns:
remarkable likenesses.

You speak to the dresses
in your closet as though
they were children.

The subconscious goes
and makes a deliberate mess
of things; and theory…

theory will have to suffice
for now.


Particle and Wave is availalbe from the University of Chicago Press

Chris Caruso is a poet with MFA’s from Rutgers Newark and Boise State University. He is fascinated with the limits and transgressions of borders/boundaries especially the margins between words and images. Chris is currently working on Fairy Tales interpreted through the Fibonacci sequence and a poetry collection that juxtaposes the anxiety bound in artistic creation against American Anxiety Post 9/11. Chris is also in the process of creating a blog to host a yearlong conceptual poetry/visual art project.

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