Human Cartography

James Gurley

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Winner of the 2002 T. S. Eliot Prize

With an easy shift of identities, Gurley gives us dramatic dialogues of obscure or well-known voices—naturalists, ornithologists, nutritionists, photographers, painters—convincing demonstrations of the best kind of literary empathy.

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Winner of the 2002 T. S. Eliot Prize

Until recently, the halls of science and the halls of literature were kept apart by mutual misunderstanding, and their professors and practitioners stayed in their separate disciplines and only glared at each other now and then through shut windows. But lately, poems such as those in Human Cartography are helping to bridge the language gap.

James Gurley seems at home at both ends of that metaphorical campus, using the wonderfully sensitive measuring instruments of both to examine both, even being one of those instruments himself, vividly observant, poised there at any number of mysterious thresholds, always aware of what he calls “the relentless beauty of the world.”

With an easy shift of identities, Gurley gives us dramatic dialogues of obscure or well-known voices—naturalists, ornithologists, nutritionists, photographers, painters—convincing demonstrations of the best kind of literary empathy. In “The Theory of Transformations” he speaks simultaneously as a lover and an anatomy instructor over the wonders of the human body with a beautifully controlled consistency and originality, yet at the same time manages to keep “a beginner’s faith in things unseen.”

Its range of interest, its penetration of normal surfaces and limitations, its mature emotional balance make Human Cartography a very strong first book.

—David Wagoner

James Gurley’s craftsmanship is superb, his narratives informative. A rare marriage.

—Jana Harris

James Gurley’s Human Cartography is, without question, one of the finest, most accomplished books of the year. Rarely do you find a volume in which the eclectic and ecstatic collide in such beautiful and brilliant ways. With their many amazingly unpredictable turns and intersections, these poems display a remarkable lyric gift that will startle, illuminate and, finally, return the world to an enduring unclouded wonder.

—Robert Hedin

Contents

Acknowledgments

The Beauty of Physics
Weighing the Planets
Biophilia
A Temporal Bestiary
The Nature of Colors
The Radius of Metaphor
73 Octaves of Nature
The Beauty of Physics
West of New England
Chemical Romance of the Leaf
The Temple of Science

Household Trust
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
Night Moths in the Open Fields
Watcher at the Nest
Helen Keller on the Vaudeville Circuit
Household Trust
The Red Shawl
The Impossible Task of Ivan Pavlov
Summer Journey Down the Delaware
William Carlos Williams Visits Mesa Verde
Out Walking
The Life of Objects
The Theory of Transformation
Voyage of the Lucky Dragon

The World, or Instability
Variation on a Theme by Kandinsky
Madame Blanchard Takes to the Air
Concealing Coloration
Tableaux Vivant
Lady Franklin’s Lament
The World, or Instability
Nabokov’s Butterflies
Field Guide
Biosophy, an Optimist’s Manifesto
Music for the Gods
Five Variations: Seattle

Notes

About the Author

Authors

James Gurley has published two poetry chapbooks, Radiant Measures, and Transformations. His poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, and he is the recipient of various writing grants, most recently a 2001 literary fellowship from Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission.

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