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