A poetic biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Rare Wondrous Things investigates the history of this German artist and naturalist who made groundbreaking discoveries in entomology. While Merian led an exceptional life—even traveling to Suriname at fifty-two years old in the pursuit of knowledge—her name has largely remained in obscurity, and her personal life is still shrouded in mystery. These poems recover her legacy by exploring the tensions between science and religion, professional aspirations and motherhood, wifehood and independence, and biographer and subject.
“Alyse Bensel’s Rare Wondrous Things is a marvel: a work of essential feminist revision, a portrait of the artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, and a book of poems that deepens our understanding of history. Both meticulously researched and wonderfully inventive, Bensel’s collection brings together art and science in profoundly moving poems. Bensel writes, “I rearrange/these fragments into a legacy, /where I can breathe life/into so many blank pages.” And the world she brings to life in Rare Wondrous Things is evocative and startling.”
—Nicole Cooley, author of Of Marriage
“To grapple with a history that only flitters into view—the life of a 17th century woman scientist and artist–is a wondrous thing itself. How to ‘evolve into a new unified order’? In addition to rendering details from the life of Maria Sibylla Merian, who among the first to observe and painted butterflies at home in Germany and then in Suriname, Alyse Bensel’s poems chart a way to understand a life obscured and cocooned by class and gender. These poems transform the details and the mysteries behind them—through art—into wondrous flight.”
—Elizabeth Bradfield, author of Toward Antarctica
“In the tradition of Adrienne Rich’s recuperative feminist poetics, Alyse Bensel’s Rare Wondrous Things celebrates both the skilled artistry and scientific acumen of naturalist and scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian. Filled with musically-crafted language and sparkling imagery, Bensel deftly weaves together ekphrasis, docupoetics, entomological knowledge, and cultural poetics in this engagingly riveting and timely poetic biography. On an individual level, these poems are jewel-bright and powerful. Together, they accumulate and accrete into a book that is nothing short of stunning.”
—Lee Ann Roripaugh, author of tsunami vs. the fukushima 50
Alyse Bensel is the author of three chapbooks, including Lies to Tell the Body (Seven Kitchens Press, 2018). Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Poetry International, West Branch, and elsewhere. She teaches at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference. Rare Wondrous Things is her first poetry collection.
80 pages I 5.5 x 8.5 in.
Pub Date: July 2020
Distributor: IPG—Independent Publishers Group; also available through Ingram, and other wholesalers.
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