B.C.-raised, Quebec poet Stephanie Bolster, in her fourth collection, A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth, takes a wry, often sad, look at the zoos and gardens of Europe and North America — what they were meant to hold and be, and what they are now.
In poems that are often like notes to a taxonomist’s study, complete with cross-references to other studies, Bolster looks at the human need to assemble animals in a zoo or trees in an arboretum — some of those structures now crumbling, the animals long perished. “The rest,/ some long since extinct, left centuries ago for Paris/ where after several generations they were eaten.”
Bolster seldom makes judgments, but the placement of her simple, direct statements — many of them seeming non sequiturs — confronts us with our desire to capture some part of nature and hold it still.
In two facing poems, Life of the Mind (Constellations) and Topiary, Bolster points at this need. In the former poem, “It went on, the universe. No edge that was a shell that held us in.” In the latter, “One wild thing/ pruned to another’s shape,/ animals, mostly./ The taming of both.” This naming, collecting and pruning is how we tame the wild universe to make it safe, the wildest and most unknown, being us.