Edge Effect Essay - Critical Essays

Sandra McPherson

Edge Effect

In EDGE EFFECT, Sandra McPherson uses her trademark doubling or mirroring technique to maximum effect in a two-part collection of poems on art and nature. McPherson usually provides the reader with a startling view as if through binoculars, but with different images in each lens. That is, two precisely described images or activities are conflated, so that each is thrown into the context of the other. In THE GOD OF INDETERMINACY, her previous collection, quilting mirrored blues-singing, so that each activity commented on the other. In EDGE EFFECT, the two areas of comparison or contrast are natural history and folk art. Yet the technique is complicated by the concept of “edge effect,” the phenomenon by which the area where the zones of two communities overlap contains elements of both communities, making margins more variegated than centers.

These poems are both intellectually and emotionally challenging. McPherson wrestles with a natural metaphysics while she reads the landscape for insight into human activity. The poems in the first part of the collection, “Portrayals,” provide portraits of folk artists whose work carries the lifeblood of nature. The second section, “Trails,” shows by precise but feeling-toned description the art in nature. The poems demonstrate McPherson’s naturalist bent as well as the influence of her teacher Elizabeth Bishop. “Phlox Diffusa,” identified as “A Poem for my Fiftieth Birthday,” shows McPherson’s layered reading of personal and natural life, in which the deceptively delicate flower’s long taproots parallel human survival techniques, and both become examples of nature’s intentionality: “The flowers completely hide the leaf cushion,/ the way a lot of enthusiasms obscure/ the inner idiot. Actually clothe it,/ but wildly as a shopping spree.” These are engaging and memorable poems.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, March 15, 1996, p. 1236.

Library Journal. CXXI, March 1, 1996, p. 81.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, February 26, 1996, p. 102.

San Francisco Chronicle. June 22, 1995, p. E1.