A review of Mammoth by Larissa Andrusyshyn
Published on October 1, 2010
Larissa Andrusyshyn’s book is fresh and original in its language, which is drawn largely from science. Buried in the acknowledgements is a witty sentence: “My sincere thanks also goes out to the Pleistocene era.” The poet places her work at the borders of DNA analysis and paleontology, with a particular interest in the projects to restore extinct species, like the mammoth. In the longest poem, she imagines a cloned mammoth going to Cal Tech. The motive for her interest is a different kind of extinction; the death of an individual, her father, who died when she was a child. The most familiar syllogism in logic says, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal.” If a species can be revived, it seems natural to long for the revival of an individual, but cloning a mammoth offers no hope for reviving a man. No syllogism leads back from the restoration of a species to the resurrection of an individual.
The back cover of Mammoth calls the book a post-Darwinian elegy, which is exactly what Andrusyshyn has written. There is a surreal tinge in some of the poems: she imagines a mammoth sequencing her father’s DNA. She fantasizes cloning her own father, but realizes that the idea is impossible. In a strange twist on the traditional device of synecdoche, she writes body parts and gives them human roles: a heart donates blood at a clinic, a liver reads poetry at an open mic, a stomach goes to a restaurant on a date. In the second preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth said: “The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the Poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us.” Andrusyshyn has written Discovery Channel poetry, and we are richer for it. mRb
Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.