The form is experimental, forcing readers to rethink ideas about the imagined differences between verse and prose. The collection is broken into four cantos, each canto contains thirteen prose poems (or verses), except for the third canto, which contains fifteen poems, and, in an explicit homage to Erasmus Darwin's 1791 publication, Botanic Garden, each canto ends with an editor's note of errata and omissions. However, these notes, omissions, and errata are themselves poems (or continuing verses depending on how you read them). Willis refers to these poems as "lyric interruptions" to the prose cantos. In a note on the text Willis explains:
The investigative energy and poetic ambition of his Botanic Garden (1791) suggested not so much a form as a sensibility with which to approach a period of political, intellectual, and biological transformation. Darwin's poems address everything from the sexual life of plants to the evils of slavery, the conquest of Mexico, Franklin's experiments with electricity, and the relation of poetry to painting. In their unwieldy asymmetries and their sudden leaps between botany, political and aesthetic history, and pastoral romance, this work of the late Enlightenment seemed an eerily apt model for riding out the inter-discursive noise of the early twenty-first century. Poetry, it says, can be at once an account of the physical world, a rethinking of the order of things, and a caprice. (77)And so it is. If this is Willis's contractual agreement with her reader, then her poems do exactly what they set out to do--these poems are "at once an account of the physical world, a rethinking of the order of things, and a caprice."
I am in love with this collection, admittedly, but one of my favorites, possibly due to my enduring Yeats obsession, has to be
The past torches itself like a mummy, dear but misremembered.
What did you manage to remember of your day at the beach,
blood in the sand? We're close enough to touch the bull's horn
with a gasp. Of course I pity a boy among crows. A spectator
trawling for the roundest metaphor to counterweight the stabbing
air. What gives, or gave, to get us here, what wired fluorescence?
The treelike nerves to become all things. Turned in, reflected,