In her book of poetry, O’Nights, Cecily Parks tackles magnificently the natural and the synthetic. She frames the book with her poems, Hurricane Song and The Hospital at the End of The Forest to drive this home. Each poem looks at the natural world as it exists out there or as we the human species have altered it. The Ornithology Lab at Night is an example of looking at the natural in something constructed by humans for essentially selfish means.
The book functions as an homage to Henry David Thoreau, with some poems naming him in the title, and others playing with lines from his prose. It should be noted that Parks doesn’t fall into standard tropes in eco-poetry, but subverts just about every single one to include arson, wanton killing, and synthetic material like dresses in various states that appear throughout her poems. She uses this image periodically to question the role of gender in the natural world.
Parks largely relies on three-line stanzas, an awkward and unbalanced form. There’s a general unpredictability in nature and so too is there unpredictability in line and stanza breaks. She’ll sneak in a few single stanza poems or quatrains, but the dominant form is three-line stanzas. Then we get to the poem, Twelve-Wired Bird-of-Paradise a sort of anchor for the text. It is written in not-quite-prose-poetry and occupies four pages, making it the biggest poem in the book.
I respect very greatly Parks’ ability to find a way to look at something with often scientific language, discuss seriously natural processes, and turn it into poetry. Her book allows for strong stand-alone poems that also function thematically or as a counterpoint to the rest of the collection. Her strengths come from not only loving the natural world around her, but its crossroads with humanity, the intersection where so many creatures have been creamed by the Mack-truck of reality.
Reviewed by: William Hess