Yasmine Guiga on Meredith Stricker’s Rewild

Meredith Stricker returns with yet another poignant and visually innovative collection of lyrical essays and documentary poetry that takes us around the world, to the areas that humans have ruined with warfare and pillaged for natural resources. Stricker explores the possibility of renewal and regeneration for these places that, when kept away from human intrusion, restore themselves and flourish.

Decay and restoration are the two polarities around which Rewild – and our world – is built. Much like the processes at work in nature, these poems fluctuate from horror and distress to hope and beauty.

Stricker’s background as an artist seeps into this cross-media collection, offering us a mosaic of highly visual poems, quotes from Rilke, Williams, Dante, articles from the New York Times and The Guardian, all brought together in a language as trenchant as it is lyrical.

With vulnerability, urgency, and biting sarcasm, Stricker struggles to come to terms with our blood-stained past, consumerism, climate change, and the destructive power of human activity. In this collection, Meredith Stricker maps out a new version of our world, opening our minds to the nature that surrounds us, and teaches us the mystical dialects of owls, whales, starfish, and bees.

Stricker opens the collection with a question:

“...will heaven exist if I live the way I live?

will there be a sky and greenness, will rivers and trout remain

will street vendors, hawks, human justice and wolves exist

will stars still have us to shine for?”

This will be the guiding thread that moves the rest of the poems forward, though Stricker later departs from musings about the current state of our world and wonders if redemption is still possible.

In a series of historical poems called Chronology, Stricker highlights some turning points in human history. In “Chronology .1,” She uses the year 1948 to juxtapose destructive warfare and U.S. capitalism, and, in a darkly satirical twist, compares Reality Television to Dante’s Purgatorio, where “contestants undergo torment, purges, hang by straps.”

Stricker weaves in her poetry the beauty and existential suffering of Rilke’s work to the fragmented Wasteland of T.S. Eliot. “...no one really knows how to live / I don’t know

how to live,” says the speaker of “You Broke My Heart.” “...I don’t know if this life will be enough to make me wise. / I don’t know if I can wake up.”

In this poem, redemption if it is at all possible, would come in the form of a

“flowering, a kind of leakage, spillway over

rough concrete dam where a life washed outside its

fixed habits and resistance, its gaping absences, abscesses, horrible

mistakes, petty avoidances.”

The collection acquires a Modernist quality, with its disjointedness, its search for a sense of self, and reflection on the role of art and poetry in an increasingly alienating world:

“...to be a Poet is to be singular

A vessel on a wild sea, the “I” in your throat unsolid

a non-Euclidean matter

a gristle, a god,

Destiny wrapt around your throat thick as a scarf of bees.”

In true Modernist fashion, Stricker’s metaphors are concrete, anchored in nature and the senses. Through shifting perspectives and jumps through time, her poetry emphasizes the ambivalence of human nature and the non-linear movement of life. Life escapes us because it has no pattern; it is alive and luminous, contradictory and experimental.

In “Human Words,” the narrator wonders what heaven is, and searches for it in the “chain link fence of a luxury car lot,” “the crook in a sleeping woman’s arm.” The definition of heaven stretches and expands. Heaven becomes a “mended cloth / or armistice, cerulean blue canoe.”

“Why shouldn’t I expect paradise in the roar / of a septic tank pump,” the narrator asks.

The line “We cannot hear the bombardment – perhaps there are still birds calling” is yet another example of Stricker’s mastery of style. Parallels are drawn between our contemporary world and World War I, a technique that further accentuates the Modernist sensibilities within the collection. In the aftermath of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, flowers grow:

“everywhere were bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot,

morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-fruited bean, purslane

 and clotbur and sesame and panic grass and feverfew.”

Here, Stricker’s verses shrewdly recall the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland:

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.”

Images of death and decay are juxtaposed to rebirth and regeneration; a binary model that is at the heart of the collection. To the destruction caused upon the world by human progress, is opposed the idea that nature endures; a hope that this wasteland we’ve created is not an eternal state, but a temporary one that will eventually pass.

The speaker seems to draw a certain sense of comfort from the fact that “another history than our own another spreadsheet than human / another profit another prophecy, chromosomal and intricate,” exists, and will continue to exist without us, because in the absence of relentless human invasion, wildlife flourishes, and “restores itself.” Species that were on the verge of extinction return, “existent only because we are / absent.”

There is peace to be found in nature, away from the constant strain of commodification and capitalistic culture. The poet invites us to “dive with the abandon of a crow” so that we can “hear the sounds the world makes.”

Stricker embraces the disjointed and the incoherent, the chaotic and the irregular. She has captured the essence of our contemporary world in a language that speaks to the most emblematic Modernist texts. Rewild is Stricker’s search for aesthetic wholeness in a fragmented world; it is an appeal for artistic creation in the face of madness, and its concern is deeply human.

Born and raised in Tunisia, North Africa, Yasmine Guiga now lives in Italy where she is a senior at the American University of Rome, earning a B.A. in English Writing, Literature, and Publishing. Yasmine is the editor of Remus, her university’s literary and art magazine, and a Prose Reader for the Adroit journal. Her own writing often revolves around the uncanny and what it means to be human.