Heather Peat Hamm’s collection of poems, songs, and illustrations, Blue Grama, offers readers a rich field study in monographic perspective, demonstrating this ecological poet’s masterful command of detail and description that holds the prairies in their clearest, most vivid light. No aspect of prairie fields, or people who call the prairie land their home, is too small or too hidden, to attract this poet’s perspicacious eye. These are poems not just to read, but to assimilate with care, as one assimilates the defining characteristics revealed in a botanist’s handbook. The poem’s are a celebration of a distinct livelihood—one that is seldom presented with such joie de vivre. The collection’s greatest triumph might be that it metaphorically couples the hardships, pathos, joys, and raptures experienced by the land’s people with penetrating insight into that which perseveres among them, the creatures and plants that share the conditions of life, wondrously unique, yet familiar, in their adaptive movements. The people and the land become intertwined as one reads the poems and studies the drawings painstakingly sketched and labelled by a deft poet-scientist. Like the speaker in the poem, “Remnants”, the reader, too, may become a “grass hugger”, gathered into the harsh land and climate, but ecstatically connected to that which grows within, moving the senses, spirit, and soul.
A salient theme in this collection are the defining qualities and experiences accompanying landedness, of being rooted in the very particular prairie landscape, which is exemplified by Blue Grama, or LittleGrass. This plant is a favourite of the poet, as explained in the prose piece, “Northern Limits”: “I like the way it manages to sneak into the landscape where other, better-suited species could take over, but LittleGrass holds on.” The poem, “Littlegrass”, describes a form of life challenged by the prairie landscape, providing a description of the plant’s root system that will seem both familiar and strange to readers who recognize the demands of the flatlands. Drawing attention to the familiar, yet strange, is the poem, “Petrichor”, which recalls and celebrates the scent that rises from the earth during a country rainfall, from rock dust and seed oils that prevent early germination: “Then rain/drives the oils and clays up and away/into our nostrils/Seeds in the soil sing/Now!” The poem “Age-Old New-Age Farmer” offers a characterization of the farmer who possesses a knowledge of “where their predecessors/stood.” However, it is also provides a glimpse into what makes this landedness memorable, a slightly altered, yet ancient, way of attending to the horizon’s other side. The collection attends throughout to moments of shared recognition, though the subject matter remains idiosyncratic, formed from an expert knowledge of botany and a poet’s insight into the survival of living forms. A sense of shared adaptive heritage in nature arises in these moments, with the Blue Grama’s extensive root structure conveying the pathos of a prairie people’s own extensive roots and the experiences that create them, fusing them with the very land they inhabit, a becoming seen in the startlingly beautiful, metamorphic poem, “Inversion”.
Heather Peat Hamm shares a collection that is nuanced, painstakingly detailed, and rhapsodic. These poems, illustrations, and songs form an enduring image of a prairie land and its people.
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