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Books Noted: Kimiko Hahn, Toxic Flora


W. W. Norton & Company, 2009

Fascinating facts about the natural world provide fertile ground for insights into human relationships in Kimiko Hahn's eighth book of poems, Toxic Flora. Here yellow jackets provide the opportunity to think about candor, and flowers that trick insects suggest more human forms of deception. For Hahn, the strange and natural lead to questions, and the questions lead to a greater sense of the strangeness of human behavior and of the potent and primal ties of family. Seeing humanity and the self through the natural world is a common means of exploration for poets, but Hahn's frankness and the strange meat of these poems allows them to stand out as starkly fresh as the carnivorous plants she describes. There is a species of butterfly whose larvae smell so much like ant larvae that the ants take care of the butterfly offspring and "neglect their own." Hahn swiftly weaves this fact into a more human thought:

At times I'm wary of resistance

unless I catch myself
mistaking infection for my own offspring.

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