For years, I've been a fan of Diane Ackerman's gorgeous prose: The Zookeeper's Wife, Dawn Light, An Alchemy of Mind Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, A Slender Thread: Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis, to name just a few of her many books.
More recently, I've found my way to her poetry. In that genre, too, she can astonish and delight and also leave you to musing.
Ackerman's poetry collections include Jaguar of Sweet Dreams (Vintage, 1993), I Praise My Destroyer (Vintage, 2000), and Origami Bridges: Poems of Psychoanalysis and Fire (Harper Perennial, 2003). Her Wife of Light (Morrow, 1978) and The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral (Morrow, 1976) are out of print (both collections are listed at Amazon but available only through other sellers).
I am most familiar with the poems in I Praise My Destroyer, which merit more than a single reading. These are poems that create color-visions of botanical and natural wonders out of words:
In the lavender hours after daybreak,
before the sun leapt onto the blue stage of the sky
to begin its light opera of soul-searing heat,. . .
~ From "When the Deep Purple Falls"
Because the gods are baking winter cakes
powdered sugar sifts over the yard
in slow motion, hushed as thought.
Bare trees resemble sticks of cinnamon. . . .
~ From "Seasoning"
Liquid memory, how gold the prison
trapping this fly undecayed in sunlight,
anatomy pure as any time traveler's.
~ From "Amber"
The poems take on love and the "hard" subjects of death, loss, and the harshness and disappointments of life, as in "We Die" — We die despite appointments and feuds . . . Life is not fair. . . Lost friend, you taught me lessons. . . . — and in "Elegy" — The world is breaking someone else's heart / today, the roses are busily mumbling scent, / all the greens of summer have blown apart / in a mad fandango of blossom, sap, and art . . . .
How can it all end,
the moon making foil of the blueblack sea,
at twilight the sandbars holding lavender
among turquoise shadows, . . .
~ From "I Praise My Destroyer"
Ackerman's poems also give us wisdom, vivid metaphors, and depictions of some memorable gone-wrong heirlooms of history, such as Colonial Williamsburg:
Sad work here:
among the magnolia
and the wild holly,
whose dry leaves roll
to the three-cornered hats.
Time is stockaded
in the colonial square, . . .
~ From "Williamsburg, Virginia"
And the poems give us the lyrical voice of a writer in love with nature and celebrating life with graceful acceptance:
At sunset, when your large fir
cradles the moon in its arms
and colors surge, remember me,
the caresser of life ever moving,
with a heart full of mischief,
and tense, fragile dreams.
~ "Where You Will Find Me"
Ackerman maintains a schedule of readings and appearances on her Website. Go hear her if you get the chance.
A biography at the site for The Pennsylvania Center for the Book.
See "At Play with Diane Ackerman", an interview at January magazine. An interview also is available at Powell's.
Below is a video from kpbs.org of Ackerman speaking about "subversive acts" of compassion and on other topics she addresses in her beautifully written book The Zookeeper's Wife.