An Introduction to Julie Choffel by Henk Rossouw

“If only a book could be a wheel or a sphere!” writes Julie Choffel in email correspondence about the non-linear form of her new poetry manuscript. With its stunning dynamism, the anaphoric opening poem “That Ideas Change Everything” works as the hub of the manuscript, with shorter poems— “The Grain,” “Foraging, No River,” and “Rag and Bone” are included in this portfolio—becoming the spokes radiating out of the ideas at the manuscript’s center. In this way, the hub line “that radicle and radical both refer to a starting point” makes space for the spoke of “a touchable podcast / for the hard of feeling.” Similarly, “that a landscape undone is called a mine” makes way for the question, “Like the forest has also / been hedging its bets?” There’s something magical, too, about the space left open between the anaphoric lines, where the repeating “that” both creates an intimacy between lines like “that seeds float on the air across oceans often in the bellies of birds” and “that at some point we awoke to tell each other about our dreams” and leaves space for new connections to unfold in the reader’s mind. Perhaps the hub poem, too, offers the anaphoric lines as spokes and an open space at its center, much like the thought attributed to Lao Tzu in the Tao-te Ching, translated from the Chinese by Wing-Tsit Chan: “Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the center hole that makes it useful.” There’s grace in this approach, where Choffel lets go rather than demands control, wonderfully conveyed by the conversational, spirited tone of spoke-lines such as: “I’ve always wanted to be / Person Carrying Flowers // but it turns out, I’m a / gatherer / I just like holding things.” Holding things together with the open-armed form apparent in Choffel’s strong new work is what eco-poetry achieves: It leaves space for the reader to draw their own conclusions.