Flickering (Penguin Poets)

Image of Flickering (Penguin Poets)
Release Date: 
April 4, 2023
Penguin Books
Reviewed by: 

“readers with an orientation to nature and a love of elegant, impersonal poetry may be well satisfied.”

Flickering, acclaimed poet Pattiann Rogers’ aptly named new collection, sparks with momentary beauty and illumination, only to fade away.

Reading Flickering is to shift focus from the human to all the other life surrounding us, whether the unseen bones that structure our lives without notice or thanks until a poet like Rogers comes along (“. . . you yourself sleep/with a skeleton every night . . .”), or those seahorses and other small creatures unlucky enough to die and decay far from home due to the human tendency to gather and then forget the odd and beautiful among us.

Rogers often turns to the reader with a concluding observation or lingering sorrow. In “The Extinct, Giant Creatures of North America,” Rogers writes “Gone,/all of them stopped, skeletons in a city /museum, staring at me, as if I knew/ anything about redemption.” In “The Puzzle of Serenity,” from a section apparently written during the Covid pandemic, Rogers observes “. . . they may come to recognize broken pieces,/by which means they may come to conceive/a mended whole.”

Rogers’ long career is entwined with her love of nature and her fascination, even debt of gratitude, to science. The art and necessity of asking questions, Rogers writes, isn’t unique to science: “Questioning is also an underlying essence of poetry, poets suggesting, wondering, seeking to understand our reactions, our emotions, the soul and heart of our lives.”

Unfortunately, Flickering lacks a central question to link otherwise disconnected sections, or hint at a larger, more elusive question behind the poems. Rogers’ formal, constrained verse often falls back on a supposedly universal “we” rather than a personal voice that risks questions that could unify the collection. Particularly disappointing is the final section, where dry, technical language on bioelectronics, written by Dr. John Rogers, a Northwestern University professor who is the poet’s son, is juxtaposed with snippets of Rogers’ older poems, many written for other contexts.

If poetry, as Rogers argues, hasn’t yet seized all the opportunities (“this expanded vision of our world”) that science offers, then Flickering is “A spark, a tiny sun flew into the night.” Yet readers with an orientation to nature and a love of elegant, impersonal poetry may be well satisfied.