Economies of Scale: Jeanne Emmons’s The Glove of the World

Jeanne Emmons’s The Glove of the World is a persistent and varied immersion in the natural world–Emmons’s poetry has a deep commitment to ecology on every scale, from internal organs (“It is the moil of the fisting muscle knuckling / and squeezing over and over the blood’s milk,” from “Blood Pressure”) to our earth seen from space (“The great, warm animal of the planet is raked by horizontals, / stroked from side to side by the neap and flood of tides,” from “Texas Coast Beneath Crescent Moon”).  Often, these differences in scale serve as metaphors for each other–that earth is a “great, warm animal” whose pelt the tides “stroke,” and the movement of blood through the body in “Blood Pressure” is “a verve, a wild garden.”  The first poem in the collection, “Mollusks,” compares the speaker’s way of thinking about the world to the way a mollusk takes in water:

Is this only how I dig in and wait,

clamped inside myself, taking in the view

through the narrow flume of my knowing?

It’s a great question, and it showcases Emmons’s method of uniting the various scales of the natural world through metaphor, but I’m not sure that’s what this poet does–I have a hard time describing this sensibility as a “narrow flume of […] knowing.”  Rather, the image at the very end of the book, in “The Web at the Center of Light,” more accurately metaphorizes this kind of poetic consciousness:

But what is too small or formless to be loved


slips even now between these words,

syllables, sounds, synapses, and is not grasped

but pours transparent as water

through the bright open spaces

of the web at the center of light.

Thus, the poet claims what is too “formless to be loved,” but also what has form–the “words,” the “web at the center.”  Whatever she doesn’t capture in the poems themselves has still “slip[ped] in.”  That list–“syllables, sounds, synapses”–in its parallel structure and alliteration equates parts of words to waves in the air more generally to parts of our brains.  Everything is united with everything else through metaphor, and the rest comes along “through the bright open spaces,” so that the poem, Whitman-like, contains everything.

Your assignment:  Write a poem that includes imagery from the natural world.  Choose at least one small thing (something on a small scale–a part of the body, or a small bird, or a small plant, or a bone, or a piece of a bone) and one large thing (on a cosmic scale–a star, a planet, a series of oceans).  Create a surprising metaphor, simile, or metonymy uniting the two scales, and include it in your poem.

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