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Winner of a 2022 Nautilus Silver Award for Lyric Prose

Cover art by Glenn Wolff

The Accidental Reef and Other Ecological Odysseys in the Great Lakes

By Lynne Heasley

Michigan State University Press

In The Accidental Reef and Other Ecological Odysseys in the Great Lakes, Lynne Heasley illuminates an underwater world that, despite a ferocious industrial history, remains wondrous and worthy of care. From its first scene in a benighted Great Lakes river, where lake sturgeon thrash and spawn, this powerful book takes readers on journeys through the Great Lakes, alongside fish and fishers, scuba divers and scientists, toxic pollutants and threatened communities, oil pipelines and invasive species, Indigenous peoples and federal agencies. With dazzling illustrations from Glenn Wolff, the book helps us know the Great Lakes in new ways and grapple with the legacies and alternative futures that come from their abundance of natural wealth. Suffused with curiosity, empathy, and wit, The Accidental Reef will not fail to astonish and inspire.

Review by Keith Taylor:

Many of the books on the Lakes and the creatures in them try to write science simply enough that the lay person can understand it. The authors don’t think very much about the art of their words. This book marries the two concerns as well as any I know. Here are a few words I wrote when I saw the book in manuscript:

Heasley combines difficult science (amply documented), reportage, historical and literary sensibilities with a crystalline style that is not afraid to confront state of the art research with the occasional lyrical flourish, and even sometimes with a bit of humor. She moves through scientific and imaginative literature to end with important philosophical issues about our relationships with the Great Lakes. All of this has resulted in a unique book, one of the most readable regional environmental books I have encountered, and one that gives me important information.

She has rather brilliantly used the artificial and accidental reef of her title to frame the essays in the book. Here we have a by-product of industrialism becoming almost a natural feature that provides breeding grounds for the Lake Sturgeon, a fish we once thought on the edge of extinction. In the process Heasley moves through the history of the region, the environmental history, and the biology of the sturgeon. She moves out into the larger issues confronting the Great Lakes and finds other examples around the whole region to illustrate her discussions of water protection.

Dr. Lynne Heasley is an environmental historian and professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at Western Michigan University. Her earliest research was in West Africa. Later she spent many years in the spectacular Kickapoo Valley of southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, for which she wrote A Thousand Pieces of Paradise: Landscape and Property in the Kickapoo Valley. Today her work centers on the more than human worlds of the Great Lakes. She co-edited and contributed to Border Flows: A Century of the Canadian-American Water Relationship.

Dr. Heasley’s recent book, The Accidental Reef and Other Ecological Odysseys in the Great Lakes, is a genre-crossing collection that foregrounds the St. Clair River, a critical connecting water and maritime corridor between Lakes Huron and Erie, and between the U.S. and Canada. She has deep respect and affection for a river’s (and a Great Lake’s) many aquatic citizens and stewards. They are guides through the twin biodiversity and climate crises reshaping our region, and toward uncertain but more hopeful futures. She has just embarked on a new project called Dreamscapes—explorations, collaborations, celebrations, and writings about three remarkable Great Lakes landforms: alvar “pavement” grasslands on Drummond and Manitoulin Islands in Lake Huron; the St. Clair River delta forming the U.S.-Canada border; and Great Lakes coastal sand dunes. https://lynneheasley.com

Cover art by Nancy Mitchnick;
Cover designer, Katrina Noble

A Fine Canopy

By Alison Swan

Wayne State University Press

Alison Swan’s collection of poems, A Fine Canopy, illustrates how the natural world envelops and encloses us with so many beautiful things: crowns of leaves, the ubiquitous blue sky, our luminous moon, and snow. So much snow. An ecopoet whose writing shows her advocacy for natural resources, in this collection Swan calls the reader to witness, appreciate, and sustain this world before it becomes too late.

These poems were written out of an impulse to track down wisdom in the open air, outside of the noisy world of cars and commerce. Swan seeks insight on shores and in scraps of woods and fields-especially on four particular peninsulas: Michigan’s upper and lower, Florida, and Washington state’s Olympic-and also inside motherhood, which might be the wildest place of all. These are poems about the interconnection of all things, and “knowing things we cannot see.” A journey through seasons with a soundtrack of birdsong, Swan’s words are incredibly sensory. The reader is made to feel the weight of muddy jeans, the jolt at the tug of a dog’s leash, and to see the bright flash of a cardinal’s red plumage.

Swan’s poems remind us that although we all want to make a mark on our world, the smaller the better: stepping into fresh snow, dashing through forests atop dry leaves, laying wet bodies on warm concrete. These quiet interactions with places are as hopeful as they are harmless.

Without necessarily tackling the topics head-on, A Fine Canopy evokes the devastation of climate change and the destruction of natural resources. This book engages deeply with the other-than-human to express and investigate alarm, dismay, anger, admiration, adoration in what feels like the end of the world unless we begin to think outside the box. These poems will carry weight with all readers of poetry, especially those who are interested in ecopoetry and connecting with the world around them.

Review by Keith Taylor:

A gorgeous book of poems. I recorded a conversation for Michigan Public Radio about this book. Here are my notes and talking points for that conversation:

In 2002 Alison Swan and her husband, David, were awarded the Petoskey Award as Michigan Environmentalists of the year for their work in protecting the dunes at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. The prize was completely deserved. As most of us realize, that kind of work is all-consuming. Letters, meetings, trips to Lansing. All the things that must be done to work for the environment. All of it volunteer, unpaid, and often thankless. Often being publically attacked by highly paid representatives of the special interests.

But through all of that, and before and since, Alison Swan has been primarily a poet, quietly working away at her own work, diligently trying to understand her position in the world. There are poems in this new collection, A Fine Canopy, that touch on those dunes, on southeast Michigan, on the upper peninsula –

In maple and cedar woods
bounded by Superior

and the Huron Mountains,
a mesh of leaves

and pure cumulus
form a piebald mirror.

But there are also poems here that touch on the Pacific Northwest and southern Florida. There’s also a wonderful longish sequence of different voices Swan found in 19th century journals from Michigan citizens. She forms her poems out of those old worlds.

But she always returns to her long gaze into the natural world. Unsparing yet unafraid. Knowing that the canopy she finds there will protect and move her imagination in unexpected ways. Here’s a short poem called “Outside” that’s typical of what she does:

Snowplows pass on the road
She can feel them in her bones
like the vibration of the furnace
A ship’s engine in the ship
of her house chugging through
swells so far out to the sea there are
goddesses and nothing whatsoever
to fear from the dark

Alison Swan was born in Detroit in 1962. Her first full-length collection of poems, A Fine Canopy, was released by Wayne State University Press on October 6, 2020. It is her fifth book. Her poems and essays have appeared in many publications, including her poetry chapbooks Before the Snow Moon and Dog Heart, the recent anthologies Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction, Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology, and Here: Women Writing on the Upper Peninsula; the journals North American Review and TriQuarterly, and The Michigan Poet broadside series and anthology. Alison founded Eco Book Club at Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore in 2015 and has hosted it ever since. In 2006, her book Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes was named a Michigan Notable Book. Co-author of The Saugatuck Dunes: Artists Respond to a Freshwater Landscape, she’s been awarded a Mesa Refuge Residency and the Michigan Environmental Council’s Petoskey Prize for Grassroots Environmental Leadership. After stints on the east and west coasts of North America, Alison Swan settled back in Michigan’s lower peninsula where she teaches in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at Western Michigan University. She lives in the Huron and Kalamazoo River watersheds.https://alisonswan.net/  

Cover art “Scoville Point” by Kathleen Heideman
Cover designer, Buescher Bartlett

Let Them Be Left

By Keith Taylor

Alice Green & Co.

Keith Taylor’s fourth poetry chapbook with the press is a collection of intimate observations of what he finds in his immersion in the wildness of Isle Royale and what he feels upon reemergence into “Twenty-first Century Wild.”
In 1991 the National Park Service began an Artist-in-Residence program at Isle Royale and Keith was chosen as one of the first three artists that summer. Twenty-eight years later he was asked to be a Returning Artist-in-Residence, both to recreate his earlier time on the island and to help mentor some young artists chosen for the Teen-Artist-in-Residence program, a new effort to expand the now established program he had been a part of so many years earlier. The poems and prose passages in Let Them Be Left are the result of that 2019 fifteen-day stay, sometimes picking up on the themes in his work.

Review by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor:

What a charming and essential chapbook by Michigan poet Keith Taylor. It places us on Isle Royale, an island in the northwest part of Lake Superior, with thrush and eagle, dragonfly and loon, cedar and spruce, wolf and moose. As it says in the Introduction, “If Lake Superior is shaped like the head of a wolf, then Isle Royale is the wolf’s eye.” It’s a National Park, and much of it is also a Designated Wilderness Area. The wilderness, the beauty, the flora and fauna—“let them be left,” this chapbook convinces us, from the opening epigraph, in this phrase quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, and moment by moment, as we keep reading Taylor’s Let Them Be Left: Isle Royale Poems.

The very first poem, “Waves,” sets up anticipation:

the lake looks confused
in that good way

just before the dance

“My History at Isle Royale” adds a complication:

I use walking sticks now, step slowly
from rock to rock, find my footing
among the roots.

Our guide is older now, his route a bit more precarious. There is “no need for nostalgia here” and both urgency and peace in his memories and observations. In “When the Eagle Came to Her Nest,” he remembers “the hesitation in the air // as she spread her wings…// as added pressure / in my chest.” I feel it, too.

There is joy in bushwhacking, a counting of jays, awe at the stars, knowledge of public spots and secret trails, respect for creatures at rest or carrying on with their lives, and through it all a sense of what would be lost if we don’t “let them be left” here, mostly undisturbed by human beings, and compassion as well for those humans, their “cities beginning to die as their water tables fall.”

There’s a big picture in this small book. As Taylor sums it up in “Twenty-First Century Wild,” “I’m not sure if my focus has narrowed or if I’m finally thinking about the whole world!”

On this little island, with gulls calling, dragonflies swooping, eagles diving, wild iris blooming, life thriving in sun or in fog, the speaker of these poems can live hushed and amazed, apart from the screens, the stresses, the woes of civilization, glad and briefly apart from the sad truth:

Here alone in all this space
I cannot believe our world is dying.

Maybe, if we pay attention the way these poems do, our world can live again.

Keith Taylor is originally from Western Canada, but has lived for the past 45 years in Michigan. He has authored or edited 18 books and chapbooks. His most recent are Let Them Be Left (Alice Greene & Co., 2021), and Ecstatic Destinations (Alice Greene & Co., 2018). His last full length collection, The Bird-while (Wayne State University Press, 2017), won the Bronze medal for the Foreword/Indies Poetry Book of the Year. His poems, stories, reviews, essays and translations have appeared widely in North America and in Europe. More than three years ago, he retired from the University of Michigan, where he taught Creative Writing for 20 years.

Before that he worked as a bookseller in Ann Arbor for almost 20 years, but over the years he has also worked as a camp-boy for a hunting outfitter in the Yukon, as a dishwasher in southern France, a housepainter in Indiana and Ireland, a freight handler, a teacher, a freelance writer, the co-host of a radio talk show, and as the night attendant at a pinball arcade in California. Taylor has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. He has been Writer/Artist In Residence at Isle Royale National Park (twice), the Detroit YMCA, The International Writers’ and Translators’ Centre of Rhodes, Greece, the University of Michigan Biological Station, and Greenhills School. http://www.keithtaylorannarbor.com/