Monadnock. Ochers. Moraine. These are some of the terms you’ll find while reading Emily Wilson’s Micrographia. You will find yourself consulting Webster’s a lot. Unless, of course, you know a great deal about isolated rock hills and unconsolidated glacial debris. Heading spinning yet? If so, Wilson’s book of poetry is not for you.
While Wilson exhibits immense talent in selecting words that sound wonderfully together—“like ships squat-sparred” and “kelp closes up”—many of the words themselves are very scientific. This limits the scale of readers who can relate to her work. If you know little about earth science, nature and flora, you will find yourself in a strange new land that may be frustrating.
One critic describes Wilson’s work as “a speech whose power lies in its admitting to being ‘sort of true, sort of torturous.’” This sums up exactly how I felt reading Micrographia. While phrases like “more rose than rubiate” and “in the form of a forest of tulip trees” drew me into the poems and left me wanting more, I stumbled painfully over awkward phrases like “jouvence blue” and “rouge-wedged bogs.” There were just too many word couplings that felt obnoxiously ostentatious.
With this in mind, I must note that Wilson gained inspiration for her work from Robert Hooke’s own Micrographia, in which observations he made through the lens of his microscope. Wilson utilizes Hooke’s same painstaking observation to write about the world. And, it causes a sense of disconnect and frustration for an individual with a non-science background or little interest in the subject. However, those who thoroughly enjoy the intricacies of science, will admire Wilson’s ability to craft poetry reminiscent of Hooke’s remarkable observations.