Reviews

“Lean and warm and funny and beautifully written…A mad, compressed biography, in a luminous, fertile poetry, of a once-in-centuries genius.” -Luke Davies

The Darwin Poems is a poetic portrait of Charles Darwin, consisting of 73 individually stunning poems…Ballou masterfully manipulates many poetic techniques, creating a work that seems effortless…The text is a clever interplay between fiction and non-fiction, and explores the parallels between poetry and science…Highly accessible, it will appeal to a multitude of readers; those interested in poetry, science and Darwin himself.” –Australian Bookseller+Publisher.

“a remarkable book…Emily Ballou has created a stirring portrait of the great naturalist in verse…You don’t have to be a Darwin enthusiast or a poetry buff to enjoy this book, but it may turn you into both.” –Good Reading Magazine, July, 2009

“Ballou’s approach is aurally stunning–a half-imagined biography told in a book-length anthology of tight, incisive verse…a highly unusual and spectacularly creative take on the life of scientist Charles Darwin… a new genre of writing.” –Paul Williams Brisbane Courier-Mail

“The progression is fast paced, and it’s a delightful struggle for the reader to move slowly enough to savour each rich and densely packed line of carefully constructed poetry” -Maggie Ball, The Compulsive Reader

Read the entire Compulsive Reader review here: The Compulsive Reader

“What the book does best is capture and insist upon the wonder of the natural world, and Darwin’s continual consciousness of this…The depth of research is impressive; Ballou’s Darwin is generally convincing and it is easy to share her sympathy for her subject. I hope that readers who have not already imagined a young, adventurous Darwin, a doubting, thought-wrestling writer, a loving father and, finally, a suffering, sorrowful elder, will find him here.” –Elizabeth Campbell, The Australian Book Review (July, 2009)

“Emily Ballou’s livre composé, The Darwin Poems, is a unique and satisfying addition to the plethora of books we have had to commemorate the great thinker’s two hundredth birthday.” Geoff Page, Canberra Times

I found these lovely blog reviews recently: “This is a wonderful book – balanced, gentle, elegant and warm. More poetic biographies, please!” Thank you to whoever blogged it.

“So well written and insightful is this book, that verse now seems the most natural and obvious form for biography”. Adam Ducker (.com)

Science Magazine, Week of June 5, 2009. Interview with Emily Ballou.

“I was sorry to put down this book, which has many moments to treasure.” Geoffrey Lehmann, The Weekend Australian The Weekend Australian review in full. Week of May 16th, 2009.

Gillian Beer, author of Darwin’s Plots wrote:

“I am very grateful to you for sending me Emily Ballou’s Darwin poems. I’ve been moved and fascinated by her achievement. Of course, in a way I’m the ideal reader because I recognise so many hints and turns from his writing and life glinting through the poems, and recognise too the love she feels for his mind. But it’s wonderful to see how she encompasses so much in her long-breathed lines, as well as her occasional short and snappy ones. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them (too fast!)”

And the wonderful and thoroughly thorough Sam Kuper from The Darwin Correspondence Project (the foremost site for the study and transcription and publication of Darwin’s letters–see my link) wrote:

“Poetry about science or scientists is a tricky genre (Richard Feynman observed that, “[The] value of science remains unsung by singers, you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.”) and your choice of subject was brave.

I find your poems are effective at transporting me to my own imaginary “Darwin world”. The way you address the context of each of the episodes means that your writing complements his. I do not consider myself primarily an historian, but I suspect all historians imagine the historical scenes they read about, supplementing the details supplied by the historical record with additional imaginary ones. Of course, they have to recognise the boundaries between the two classes of detail, and must strive not to mistake one for the other; but without those additions, the picture they have is unsatisfying; unconvincing. Your poems supply many details in the second class, and in most cases, they are richer than the ones my own imagination has supplied me with so far and more painstakingly researched. By providing a sensuous contextual framework for the things we do know from the historical record, they make the latter more vivid, more memorable, and perhaps more comprehensible. I certainly feel I understood Fanny Owen and Sappho better after reading your poems than I did beforehand.
As for my enjoyment of the poems, I find it depends much on my mood. I used to read poetry more often than I do now, and – like CD’s – the part of my brain that poetry exercises has probably already begun to atrophy from disuse. But if I’m relaxed enough to allow myself the time to luxuriate in your poems, that part starts to wake up and to work again: I suspend my disbelief, and I move my thoughts in time with the metre, and I am transported to the scene of the poem. Of course, I’m lucky enough to experience something like this through CD’s prose on a very frequent basis, which means I’m spoiled. But the fact that you – a third party writing more than a century later, and in a different medium – are able to convey a similar experience, is impressive to say the least!”