I found a press that looked promising for a place to send my current manuscript, Anchor and Plume out of Baton Rouge, and I ordered a book so I could investigate them further. I’s so happy I ordered Jenna Le’s A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora. Ocean Vuong blurbed the book and called her poems “tender, earnest yet fierce.” Sometimes I move around a book of poems, but this time I started at the first page and found I couldn’t stop devouring each poem.
Le is in love with the sound of language, it seems, from the very first poem which is full of alliteration and assonance. The speaker “know[s] the burn the surf-drunk humpback feels,” after it launches out of the water and “dash[es] the sun’s hot sclera with salt spatter.” The book’s final poem, “Ark,” closes with the image of a dove “Shaken out of the sky,/ the way a woman shakes the knots/ out of a long silk scarf.” Every poem is littered with lovely phrases like these, making it difficult to stop reading for the next one.
The first section of the book titled “And God created the great whales” stays near the sea, recounting how whales arrived there from land, how the ocean sings to those on shore. The second, “And every living creature that moveth,” comes back to land, the Midwest, where speakers are land-locked and lonely. The opening poem of the section, “Minnesota,” shows Le’s playing with form, as two quintets mirror each other in rhyme, while also reversing the theme of the west wind being an ally, then going missing. The final section, “And every winged fowl after his kind,” moves between land and sea, the tricky spaces in life where we feel unmoored. In “Psych!” a young woman comes to terms with a mysterious one-night stand, and the following poem, “Birth Control” offers a question of how beings show restraint, which is given a painful answer.
I highly recommend Le’s book, and look forward to reading more from Anchor and Plume!