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‘Alt-Nature’ Review: Prose Poetry at Full Capacity

4 Stars

"Alt-Nature" by Saretta Morgan
"Alt-Nature" by Saretta Morgan By Courtesy of Coffee House Press
By Vivienne N. Germain, Crimson Staff Writer

In her new collection of prose poetry, “Alt-Nature,” Saretta Morgan engages with the desert and the waters to meditate on love, violence, injustice, Blackness, and queerness. By intimately feeling the natural Earth, she unearths natural human feeling. “Alt-Nature” is, in a word, full — and it finds success in its fullness.

The collection’s premise deceptively suggests an excess of subject matter, but Morgan handles its many hefty topics effectively and gracefully.

Morgan writes, “Listen how the officers have paused / for the territory to arrive. / The darker the berry / the longer there is to wait.”

Her poetry communicates her ideas with appropriate gravity, but it does so with smooth, concise language. It conveys complex meaning through mostly brief sentences and phrases, finding nuance without overburdening the reader with gory details. “Alt-Nature” investigates a broad range of challenging and complicated social and cultural experiences in a pensive, artful, and digestible way.

Morgan wrote the collection while living between the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, and she clearly drew from her environment to craft her writing. “Alt-Nature” relies heavily on desert and water imagery, which lends itself to the outdoor spectacle of the American Southwest. Additionally, like the desert, one of her poetry’s most present ideas is dearth: Emptiness, openness, aloneness, an absence, a lack. Morgan uses the desert’s perceived nothing to illustrate life’s overfull something, urging the reader to observe and consider the substance in negative space.

She writes, “Dearth, irrational, makes empty the valley. From elongated shadows, pulp of her desire.”

Morgan embraces dearth not only through brilliant language but also through seemingly unoccupied areas — consequential blank space in and around her poems, as well as all-black pages that urge the reader to question whether they are empty or full. In addition to the written word, “Alt-Nature” flourishes through vacancy.

While harmonizing environmental nature with human nature, Morgan does not baby the reader; her poetry requires attentive interpretation. In the poem “Dearth-light,” which discusses everyday human life and the necessity of self-love, Morgan writes, “only deserts witness the slow and complete life of water.” From an obvious, straightforward reading, this statement seems unrelated to the human experience — but in its context, readers will grasp its pertinence.

Morgan does not connect concepts through overly direct explanations, but her connections prove evident through her careful composition and potent imagery. In this way, inexplicit yet precise language produces the success of her work. However, it may create a barrier between her words and her readers.

“Alt-Nature” is a high-pressure poetry collection. Every word is deliberate, and no word is superfluous, which makes her writing thick with ideas but incessantly heavy. Morgan’s ability to concentrate intricate meaning in concise language demonstrates impressive skill. Still, it may overwhelm some audiences.

She writes, “This love story a horse still drunk from war, where I am the incredible absence of her jaw. A soft pink gaining.”

Morgan’s words thrive from their weight, which is clearly intentional, but this weight may deter some readers. At times, the collection feels exhausting to read or difficult to understand. However, her poetry’s weightiness is relevant, even crucial. “Alt-Nature” handles concepts that merit deep consideration: queer love, familial love, incarceration, racism, injustice, genocide, and the human body. In that case, the poetry’s density is not a flaw, merely an imperative limitation.

Furthermore, Morgan’s pacing combats this obstacle. Most of her sentences — and sentence fragments — end with periods. This punctuation, along with the rich language, makes the reader proceed slowly and ruminate on the bountiful imagery. It’s difficult to speed through “Love, if you are where I am. / Even your smallest of errors. / Your most wrecked door.” The meticulously steady flow permits understanding and encourages contemplation, which is essential to appreciating Morgan’s poetry.

Both expansive and compact, “Alt-Nature” is ultimately outstanding. The dynamic poetry promises a refreshing swim through deep waters. It requires the reader to work — but the work is fulfilling. Morgan’s words will enthrall readers throughout the collection and linger in their minds after completing it, which makes the collection all the more valuable.

—Staff writer Vivienne N. Germain can be reached at vivienne.germain@thecrimson.com.

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