Once Removed

by Stephen Burt

Some poets take nonhuman nature as just one more subject; for Bradfield, however, plants and animals—Atlantic seascapes, tropical forests, marine mammals, migratory seabirds—give most of her poems their reason to exist. A longtime Cape Cod resident, Bradfield opens her volume with a sheaf of poems about coastal New England, but she also responds to travels in Peru and Alaska, and to her childhood in Tacoma, Washington. Bradfield reports on the whales who “plough / a field of plankton,” then exults as “A peregrine calls ... at the foothills of the Chugach.” Alongside uncomplicated pleasures of nature poetry (as when “The Truro Bear” pays homage to Mary Oliver’s poem by that name), this third book from Bradfield also holds the rewards of nonfiction nature writing: Who knew that Atlantic beaches collect, along with “driftwood, shells, bones,” “a strange / surfeit of underwear bands—not the panties … but what snugged them”? Who else has seen “oaks ovaling the sky” where “in the low light of not-quite-sunset / close to a hundred tree swallows rose, gathered, / then came low to hit the water”? Bradfield also writes honestly, lovingly, of her partner (a woman), her sister, and her sister’s young child, but the dominant notes come from far outside Bradfield’s home life—from the wooden maps of Inuit navigators; from the vicissitudes of shipboard life in her lengthy ghazal “At Sea”; from “the iced-over river, Alaska Range,” with its “spruce and spruce and a few hours / of thin blue sky.”

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2015.