No More Time, by Greg Delanty, Louisiana State University Press, 80 pp, $17.95, ISBN: 978-0807172353
Greg Delanty’s new volume inevitably calls to mind his 2014 collection, So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis, published by Green Writers Press in Vermont, where the Cork-born poet lives and works. The new collection’s title is driven further home in “Any Way You Look at It”, a sonnet-length poem containing only three words, “no more time”, repeated continuously over fourteen lines. The human mistreatment of the natural world must stop now, this collection says, and it presses the point home with reference to what humanity has already lost as well as what it is in danger of losing.
The book is structured around an alpha-bestiary of twenty-six sonnets all written principally in terza rima. This alphabetical compendium of animals ‑ “Aye-Aye” (a type of lemur), “Bos taurus”, “Chimpanzee”, etc ‑ comprises Parts 1 and 3 of the collection. The full sonnet sequence is titled “A Field Guide to People”, partly no doubt a reference to how humanity interacts with the environment, but also echoing Delanty’s prefatory suggestion that the distinction between humans and other animals, like the distinction between poetry and other writing, is unclear. “Consider what follows,” the poet says, “as writing by an animal.”
Each poem in “A Field Guide to People” reflects on a species of flora or fauna that is thriving, endangered, or extinct, and Delanty has spoken of how this evocation of an earthly heaven, purgatory, and hell for plants and animals was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Dante also originated the terza rima structure, which Delanty combines with concluding rhyming couplets to allow for a conversational sonnet style such as in “Honeybee”:
. . . Without Apis
the abyss will take over, unbloom many
a garden, field and wood. The honeybees
are more waning than waxing, warns apiology:
queens, drones, nurses, guards, whole communities.
Protect them, the amber labor force of ecology.
Already, this word-comb is a fossilized apology.
In this and in other sonnets in the sequence, Delanty successfully mirrors Dante’s intricate way of writing, for example using “waxing”, “amber” and “comb” alongside a plethora of “s” and “z” sounds which seem to mimic the bees, a very Dantesque device.
These carefully crafted poems address the need for more human connection with the environment and the natural world. “Bos taurus” is among those poems that are prefaced with some background information: “The raising of cattle adds to climate change, partly due to the methane produced by bacteria in the stomachs of cows.” What billions of cattle “burp and fart” is mentioned in the poem that follows, and the person browsing the meat aisle is challenged in ironic fashion:
What’s tender? There’s a deal on veal? Forget the poor
calf. Scruples flit like flies around the tail of a cow.
Quell your qualms, man. You’re a natural carnivore.
The tragedy of extinction is faced head-on in “A Field Guide to People”. The flower “Falls of-the-Ohio Scurfpea”, for example, has not been sighted in a century; “Quagga” reports on the “accusing stare” of the only photographed quagga, a mare; and “Dusky Seaside Sparrow” deals with the destruction of this bird’s only nesting ground when Merritt Island in Florida was flooded in order to eradicate mosquitoes around the Kennedy Space Center: “Maddening mosquitoes are murderous to erase. / The sparrows are collateral damage in this case.”
In the middle of the sonnet sequence is Part 2 of the book, titled “Breaking News”, which includes more direct political poetry. The opening untitled sonnet concludes with an encapsulation of the environmental problem: “Her aging body is becoming a living shell, / Terra Mater, the erasing of cell after cell.” In a visual poem resembling engravings on a war memorial (“On a Friend Visiting the Vietnam War Memorial”), Delanty imagines “such a wall / listing plants and creatures since Noah / that we’ve undone, a roll call”.
In “The Good Old Days” we read of “not [having] a care in the world”, and, in the satirical “State of the Union”, that there is “[n]o need for any distress”, but in reality, the planet “needs to be placed pronto / in the recovery position” (“One More Time”). Delanty ran for the Vermont Green Party in the 2004 state elections, and in interviews he has spoken of living in an environment-friendly way. While No More Time seeks to promote environmental awareness ‑ in “Umbilical”, for example, we read that the gas pump “is an umbilical cord / sucking the life out of Terra Mater” ‑ this volume prioritises action, and in doing so the poet embeds his name in the final lines of the concluding poem, “Envoy: Zayante”:
Which ciao will it be, hi or goodbye, on Planet Zayante?
Enough Gregorian cant and rant. We’re done. Adelante.
Louisiana State University Press has done a fine job of publishing this book but it is regrettable that no information is given in the notes about the two translations from Irish. While assistance with the translations is acknowledged, all that the reader is told about “Apathy Is Out” is that it is “Translated from Seán Ó Ríordáin”, and no background at all is provided to a translation from Aislinge Meic Con Glinne (“From The Vision of Mac Conglinne”).
At the heart of this book is the author’s love of nature, and this is well expressed in poems like “The Lion”, with its account of a lion with “the humorless, bearded face of an Amish elder” protecting his pride on the savanna; in the call in “Earthworm” for a shrine to be built for “these lowly laborers of Gaia”; and in the reflections on hummingbirds’ wingbeats inspired by back garden goldfinches in “Counting”. The short experimental poems found in Part 2 are perhaps the least successful in the collection, but ultimately the strength of its other components, and their cumulative force, leave the reader with increased consciousness of the environmental problems now facing humanity.
Tim Murphy is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Art Is the Answer (Yavanika Press, 2019) and The Cacti Do Not Move (SurVision Books, 2019).