Katherine Larson’s Radial Symmetry is less about science than I expected, given that it was written by a research scientist and field ecologist. As a book of poetry, Larson’s imagery, clarity, and vividness is to be admired – there are moments of great beauty scattered throughout the book.
Unfortunately, Radial Symmetry wasn’t really the book for me; if you’re a reader who likes a cohesive narrative (or poems that feel connected), this collection will feel disjointed. Larson writes of her own experiences with loss, love, travel, and more, couching them in biological imagery (sometimes) but leaving us without any discernible threads to meaningfully connect these reflections. Within each of these reflections, there are certainly precise and beautiful moments of writing and insight; it should be noted that Larson pays particularly excellent attention to sound within her work. But much of the collection felt vague and too personal for me to understand. There were also a lot of noncommittally ‘thoughtful’ statements where Larson seemed to be attempting philosophy but fell short of dedicating herself to it – for example a catch-all, like “Either everything’s sublime or nothing is”.
This book of poems would work well for those who appreciate scientific reference without scientific exploration and who like to go on a personal journey with the author through a life not your own. Larson does offer a unique perspective on her human experience, particularly through poems about loss like Grandfather Outside. Readers who appreciate poetry collections in which there is a lot of variety and diversity in thought, imagery, and style will also appreciate this versatile collection.
Some of my favorite lines follow – from Statuary:
“But somewhere between/ the crane and the worm/ between the days I pass through/ and the days that pass/ through me/ is the mind…”
from Study for Love’s Body:
“Saturn revolves/ repeatedly around some distance/ where space is nothing/ yet still something that separates.”
from Love at Thirty-Two Degrees:
beyond pheromones, hormones, aesthetics of bone,/ every time I make love for love’s sake alone,
I betray you.”