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A Fine Canopy

Poems by Alison Swan

Poetry, Environmental Studies

Made in Michigan Writers Series

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Paperback
Published: October 2020
ISBN: 9780814348062
Pages: 104 Size: 6x9
$16.99
eBOOK
Published: October 2020
ISBN: 9780814348079

Alison Swan’s collection of poems, A Fine Canopy, illustrates how the natural world envelops and encloses us with so many beautiful things: crowns of leaves, the ubiquitous blue sky, our luminous moon, and snow. So much snow. An ecopoet whose writing shows her advocacy for natural resources, in this collection Swan calls the reader to witness, appreciate, and sustain this world before it becomes too late.

These poems were written out of an impulse to track down wisdom in the open air, outside of the noisy world of cars and commerce. Swan seeks insight on shores and in scraps of woods and fields—especially on four particular peninsulas: Michigan’s upper and lower, Florida, and Washington state’s Olympic—and also inside motherhood, which might be the wildest place of all. These are poems about the interconnection of all things, and "knowing things we cannot see." A journey through seasons with a soundtrack of birdsong, Swan’s words are incredibly sensory. The reader is made to feel the weight of muddy jeans, the jolt at the tug of a dog’s leash, and to see the bright flash of a cardinal’s red plumage. Swan’s poems remind us that although we all want to make a mark on our world, the smaller the better: stepping into fresh snow, dashing through forests atop dry leaves, laying wet bodies on warm concrete. These quiet interactions with places are as hopeful as they are harmless.

Without necessarily tackling the topics head-on, A Fine Canopy evokes the devastation of climate change and the destruction of natural resources. This book engages deeply with the other-than-human to express and investigate alarm, dismay, anger, admiration, adoration in what feels like the end of the world unless we begin to think outside the box. These poems will carry weight with all readers of poetry, especially those who are interested in ecopoetry and connecting with the world around them.

Born in the Great Lakes basin, Alison Swan is a Mesa Refuge alum and a Petoskey Prize for Grassroots Environmental Leadership co-winner. Her poems and environmental writing have appeared in two chapbooks and in many anthologies and journals. She teaches at Western Michigan University and lives in the Huron and Kalamazoo River watersheds. Her Great Lakes collection, Fresh Water, was named a Michigan Notable Book.

These poems thrive beneath a canopy of nuanced connections with crows, stars, leaves, lakes, a lover, a daughter, and most potently, a self. Swan offers us poems of faith and resilience that arise from her deep, sustained perception of a natural world where ‘everything gives back light.’

– Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl

Thank all the muses that these beautiful poems by Alison Swan arrive to help us take notice of our own fragility and that of our world. Not oblivious to sorrow, far from it, but so raptly involved in all that constitutes the ground beneath our feet and the canopy above us as to give us heart. This book is truly restorative reading.

– Linda Gregerson, Prodigal: New and Selected Poems

It makes sense that a terrain as extraordinary as the Great Lakes would find voice in a poet as glorious as Alison Swan. I am smitten. Swan writes with bone-deep passion, astonishing clarity, and watchful tending about life ‘at the edge of a freshwater sea.’ This collection is an almanac, a chronicle, a sacrificial offering to a particular landscape, and also a paean to all beings. The poems fly about with lives of their own, breathing inside their skins, beautiful and endangered.

– Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and A House of Branches: Poems

These poems offer us acts of attention and tenderness, two things we need now more than ever.

– Mary Ruefle, Vermont poet laureate and finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for poetry

In this investigative, thoughtful debut, Swan carefully constructs an arc of grief and transformation through a wide range of poetic forms, including lyric strophes, tercets, couplets, and luminous fragments. The poems are unified by a recurring interest in the relationship between interior and exterior, and the porous boundary between the self and the world. As the book unfolds, the "red-winged blackbirds," "train whistles," and "passerines" that surround the speaker are subtly transformed by her wild flights of imagination. The speaker observes in "Succession," "Wildflowers/ replenishing a charred mountainside/ offer answers, ways of seeing and being/ that affirm silver linings: the fuchsia-blue/ flare of fireweed and the promise of cones." This poem reads as an exploration and interrogation of the way the author’s mind projects onto external objects, and the myriad ways the world may be changed by the observer’s psyche. "What sort of life inures one to the relief/ of knowing things we cannot see," Swan asks. Teasing out possible answers to these questions, Swan offers a subtle consideration on the natural world through accomplished poetic craft.

– Publishers Weekly