American Wildflowers: A Literary Field Guide

American Wildflowers, a splendid anthology edited by poet Susan Barba (Geode), displays a range of American literature and includes essays, early travel narratives and poetry. In her introduction, Barba refers to the book as a "florilegium, the Latin word for a gathering of flowers" and notes that it's intended to "counter the 'plant blindness' of our dominant culture." Pieces are grouped by the name of the plant, accompanied by its Latin family name, making the anthology function like a field guide. A floral reference might be incidental but more often provides a central theme.

Barba showcases a range of poetic styles, from T.S. Eliot to Lucille Clifton. Lydia Davis and Mary Siisip Geniusz decry the battle to eradicate weeds. Camille Dungy makes an allegorical connection between racial homogeneity and the reduction of natural diversity. Meriwether Lewis describes the blue camas seen on his 1806 expedition. George Washington Carver's World War II-era article gives tips on preparing leaves and roots. Effusing about lilacs, Walt Whitman muses on death, as does Louise Glück in the spare poem "The Wild Iris." The "Asteraceae" section is a highlight, with poems about dandelions and sunflowers by Emily Dickinson and Allen Ginsberg and a passage from Aldo Leopold that presages the decline of native flora. Authors of color (Ross Gay, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Sandra Lim, Aimee Nezhukumatathil) feature prominently.

Leanne Shapton's watercolor illustrations, painted from pressed flowers, draw everything together into a stunning whole. As asserted in "The Rhodora" by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "beauty is its own excuse for Being." American Wildflowers is the ideal gift for bookish gardeners and nature lovers. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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