He is best known for his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, but among filmmakers Roget is better known for his explanation of the optical illusion that still bedevils them: Why does a wheel moving forward always seem on film to be running backward? For Linda Bierds, the illusion also refers to our relationship to language, to our belief that words hold something moreHe is best known for his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, but among filmmakers Roget is better known for his explanation of the optical illusion that still bedevils them: Why does a wheel moving forward always seem on film to be running backward? For Linda Bierds, the illusion also refers to our relationship to language, to our belief that words hold something more than their definitions. Why do we strive to articulate the world even as we know this is a shifting and illusory pursuit? Why do we continue to seek perfection, pursue beauty, yearn for immortality? Roget’s Illusion offers no answer. It simply shows the striving....
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Roget's Illusion Reviews
Longlisted for the National Book Award, and written by the author of The Profile Makers and a MacArthur "genius" award winner, who visited my campus recently to read her work and do conferences and a workshop with our poets. That occasion led me to read this book, though I had already bookmarked it to read because I had very much liked The Profile Makers, which I learned was "ekphrastic" poetry, or poetry about art (or, using one form of art to try to try to explain another form of art). The Profile Makers was about photography. Other examples? William Carlos Williams wrote his poem "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" about Brueghel's painting, "The Fall of Icarus," and W.H. Auden also wrote "Musee Des Beaux Arts" about that painting. Roget's Illusion also has a lot of ekphrastic poetry, but there is a wider scope here that includes ekphrasis. Roget's Illusion is about the relationship between naturalistic or scientific inquiry and linguistic inquiry. It's what is sometimes called "academic" poetry, the domain of university creative writing programs, dense lyric poetry, but I found it (and her, through her reading of it), passionate, engaged and fascinating. It's about inquiry, about curiosity, about the human capacity for always wanted to know how things work, for explanation.Roget is of course best known about writers and readers for his 1852 Thesaurus, his inquiry into words, language. But scientists know him for his scientific inquiry into a common phenomenon: how spinning spoked wheels would appear to move backwards. Why is that? So Bierds writes about Roget writing about that, and about that phenomenon, too, but she is really more about the impulse to inquiry itself, which of course also happens in poetry. So Roget is a good guy for exploring the intersection of science and language. And Bierds loves science, and art, and poetry, as inquiry into the world. And at the heart of this enterprise is not the answers, but the striving for them, that impulse to know that like Icarus, always falls somewhat short of its divine goal but is admirable in its own right. Poems in this collection explore, in addition to Roget, the art of Durer, the Font-de-Gaume Cave Paintings, Nicolaas Tulp, Pietro Longhi, Walter Sickert, and the writing of Virginia Woolf, but also of scientists Michael Faraday (who contributed to our understanding of electromagnetism and electrochemistry), George Steller (a botanist), Pasteur, and Darwin. It's dense, thoughtful work about the relationships between science, art, and language. And music! Her last poem is about, in part, Wagner's Tristan. But remember: this is finally about poetry, Bierd's careful way through language to try (her own inquiry) to understand and communicate with us her understandings of these other forms of inquiry, and their often intricate interrelationships. She quotes, for her last poem, Virginia Woolf: "I am imagining how it would be if we could infuse souls?" Seems like she mostly accomplishes this. Dense, "academic," sure, but it's finally about things beyond what we can truly say, all this inquiry, seems like. After all the erudite rendering, it seems like Roget's Illusion is about mystery.
I'd selected this poetry collection on a whim, and found myself delighted with the line precision and Bierds' exquisite use of historical research. Part One and Part Two were, by far, most appealing. The third, while dense, approached too close the present and took away from the pure essence of Durer and his science. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable collection.
These poems left me cold and disappointed. Linda Bierds' words are detailed and thoughtfully crafted, but also somehow self-conscious, clinical, and rigid. A few turns of phrase here and there pulled me in, but mostly I felt like a fidgety, bored child listening to a lecture.
I confess I neither understood nor related to most of the poems in this book.
Too...academic? for my taste. Didn't draw me in emotionally.