Particle and Wave
Particle and Wave
Are we alone? If so, Particle and Wave insists that we need not be lonely. Here the periodic table of elements—a system familiar to many of us from high school chemistry—unfolds in a series of unexpected meanings with connotations public, personal, and existential. Based on a logic that considers the atomic symbol an improvised phoneme, Particle and Wave is keenly attuned to the qualities of voice and concerned with how these improvisations fall on the listening ear. From the most recent housing bust, to the artistic visions of Christo and Jeanne Claude, to the labors of the Curies, to Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius, culture and world histories are recontextualized through the lens of personal experience. Muscular, precise, structurally varied, and imagistic, these poems engage in lyricism yet resist mere confession. In doing so they project the self as a composite, speaking in a variety of registers, from the nursery rhyme songster, to the ascetic devotee, to the unapologetic sensualist. They welcome all comers and elbow the bounded physical world to make way for a dynamic, new subjectivity.
“The periodic table serves to frame Landry’s second work, a finalist for the 2012 National Poetry Series Open Competition, but it’s not a distancing device. Instead, Landry uses each element suggestively to create a range of voices that personalize key cultural and historical moments from the eruption of Vesuvius to the recent housing bust.”
“This unusually well-conceived manuscript evolved over the course of several years when Benjamin Landry was an administrator in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. Each day on the way to and from his office, he would pass posters containing atomic symbols for the elements in the hallways, symbols which he began to think of as phonemes (or the smallest parts of speech), which in turn became poems. Although each poem in Particle and Wave may begin with the element’s letter(s), its atomic weight, or molecular structure, the poem generated from each element quickly opens up into the circumstances of the element’s discovery, its anecdotal history, it’s naming, use, and chemical stability—in other words, Landry follows the logic of metaphor and harnesses all the resources and variety of the history of the lyric tradition to create a book wholly unlike anything in American poetry. It is a remarkable achievement for a young poet in his first book-length collection.”
“The best part of any new book of poetry, Landry’s certainly included, is that you never know exactly what to expect–even if you think you know what to expect. Particle and Wave has a strong organizing conceit that is sure to attract attention. But the poems are also individually innovative, offering interesting moments when the scientific and the poetic meet.”
Elizabeth O’Brien | CutBank
Landry shifts freely but delicately from image to image, like the ’painter of bottles’ who works with ’brushes / of eyelash.’ Throughout the poems, selves are fluid and the distinctions between ’I,’ ’we,’ and ’you’ are blurred or effaced—object becoming subject; subject, object.
“‘We split the atom because we could / and are now outfitting cockroaches with microphones; / our drones have a bird’s-eye imagination.’ In other words, progress marches on. Benjamin Landry has kept up with it by considering each element in the periodic table as an associative starting point for a poem. Those lines are from the one about Uranium. There seem to be a lot more elements than there were the last time I checked (Hafnium, anyone?) and together they all impart a mysterious objectivity to the freewheeling lyricism of Particle and Wave. The poetry of everyday (and not so everyday) objects has seldom been as strikingly realized as in this exciting first collection.”
“Benjamin Landry’s poems riffing off the periodic table playfully combine and separate the properties of the elements with family memories, with myth and history, with investigations of science, photography, and belief. In Landry’s alchemical poems, one object or event quickly metamorphoses into another, mirroring the poems’ obsessions with the problems of image-making: what part of physical experience will stay, whether in words, memory, or art, in a world so transitory that we have only the trace elements of language to prove anything existed? Smart and brilliantly inventive, the poems are as malleable, and shimmering, as mercury.”
“What is to be gained by taking the periodic table of the elements (once again) as a platform for the imagination? Very nearly everything, as the poems in this wonderful volume make clear. In ‘Polonium,’ we may hear the voice of Marie Curie, and the etymological echo of her native Poland. In ‘Gallium,’ on the strength of a gentle pun, we may encounter a lovely ekphrastic on a famous ancient sculpture (‘The Dying Gaul’). ‘Cobalt’ narrates a beautiful tale about the transport, historically and geographically, of a precious stone. ‘Potassium’ meditates, by way of the body’s osmotic system, on the tide-swells of erotic attraction. Written with gemlike precision and unfailing musicality, with exhilarating flights of imagination and gentle moments of recognition, these are poems for heart and mind in tandem, as for the particle and wave in competing theories of light.”
“Reading the poems of Benjamin Landry’s remarkable and ambitious debut, Particle and Wave, ‘you can begin to feel / what the electron feels / in renouncing its steady orbit.’ Like a reflecting telescope, they reveal the distance—and the intimacies—between the elements of the cosmos and those of a human being, even those of a poem, as ‘The stars word you across, / practicing your names.’ Enticing and resonant, these are poems that stay with you, ‘a scrap of a verse repeated / like a flag flying in the skull.’”
Table of Contents