Anthropocene Blessing: Corpse Flower
You who embarrass naturalists with your racy
scientific name—your coy and skirted spathe
unfolding in precocious maroon pleats
about your massive spadix, phallic offering
to the still-unscented air—how we tend
and wait years for you to bloom inside
our careful greenhouses, your wild kin
dwindling as the forests fall. How we revel
in your unapologetic stench, watch
the carrion beetles swarm toward your
tease of rotten meat and death. We hold
our noses but still lean in to see the mania
of insects do your bidding, smear their pollen
along rings of tiny flowers at your base.
May your corm be ever swollen. May your
inflorescence be ever graced by flies.
You who can warm your body to match
the heat of our own, may your odor outlast
us, we whose corpses feed the worms
below the wilting petals on our stones.
Review by Edward Harkness
Any poem that delights as it teaches is my friend. Brittney Corrigan’s “Anthropocene Blessing: The Corpse Flower” is just such a friend. Her poem pushed me toward the dictionary to learn new words, beginning with the title: Anthropocene (the current epoch that spans human life and our impact on the planet, including climate disruption, loss of habitats, animal extinctions, and chemical changes to our seas and atmosphere). Thanks to Corrigan, I now have a passing familiarity with words inside the poem: “spathe” (leafy covering on certain flowers), “spadix” (pod-like spike of tiny flowers), “corm” (bulb-like storage organ on some plants), and “inflorescence” (the process of flowering; an arranged cluster of flowers on a stem). I’m grateful for these additions to my average vocabulary and average understanding of the science of flowers, in particular, the rare and grimly named corpse flower, with its phallic shape and smell of rotting flesh.
The poem’s speaker addresses the flower itself, blessing it not only for its rarity and beauty but also for its stench, reminding us of our own mortality, even the mortality of the earth itself. The corpse flower, we learn, may well be on its way to extinction while we humans “wait years for you to bloom inside / our careful greenhouses, your wild kin / dwindling as our forests fall.”
What I most admire about “Anthropocene Blessing: Corpse Flower,” is the richness of its language. Corrigan’s poem is, like its subject, fecund, earthy, lush. Its blessing may appear to be for the corpse flower, but its true audience is we who dwell in the uncertainty of our Anthropocene era. Never have we needed such blessings more than now. Thank you, Brittney Corrigan.
Review by Kyle Gervais
In twenty sonorous lines full of precisely judged diction and imagery, Brittney Corrigan introduces readers (or at least this reader) to the corpse flower: Amorphophallus titanum, i.e., “giant misshapen phallus”– a “racy / scientific name” indeed. The “blessing” given to this flower presents it as an ideal figure of humanity’s complicated and (self-)destructive relationship with nature at the height of the Anthropocene. The poem offers inventive and musical phrases in almost every line: “your wild kin / dwindling as the forests fall”, “tease of rotten meat and death”, “may your / inflorescence be ever graced by flies.” Particularly well done is the introduction of the flower’s most notable feature, the aforementioned giant “phallus.” Polite embarrassment in the face of a “racy” name leads us to the plant’s “coy” spathe which (as a Google search confirms) does indeed look like an upside-down pleated maroon skirt. But from this coyness thrusts the “massive spadix, phallic offering / to the still-unscented air.”
The scent in question is that of a rotting dead body, which brings us to the poem’s controlling paradox: it is through the imitation of death and decay that the corpse flower bursts into exuberant life and draws towards it “the mania / of insects,” beetles designed to feast on death, here co-opted into the project of floral procreation. These insects “do [the] bidding” of the flower, but it seems to me that we humans do as well: the bugs’ mania is matched by how we ourselves “revel” in the flower, even as we hold our noses against the stench. We have driven the flower towards extinction in the wild, but work in our “careful greenhouses,” and with the diligence of carrion beetles, in the service of its propagation. We have attempted to sterilize and domesticate this consummate example of nature’s play with death and life, but can never fully bring it under our control. In the end (or at least the speaker hopes), the corpse flower will grow on without us as we are forcibly returned to the natural order, our own corpses a feast for worms, leaving behind only wilting flowers on bare gravestones.
Review by Massimo Fantuzzi
In this multicolour composition, layers, sediments, leftovers of our Anthropocene are pressed, mixed, dynamically interacting with one another: a clockwork. We are introduced to an assortment of living modes: the aseptic and controlled type existing behind the Plexiglas of a greenhouse; the real type explicated in the “mania / of insects“ crawling towards their target. We are introduced and agonise a multiplicity of deaths: real deaths expressed in the falling of the forest/”dwindling” of species, and fictitious ones evoked in the “tease of rotten meat.” We witness the exchange of favours, “biddings,” offerings of creatures and shapes embellishing and sustaining one another: a clockwork.
Life through the Anthropocene is so harmoniously and vividly pictured here that one could, looking ahead, feel entitled to indulge in a bit of optimism. Wait, better check first with “the worms / below,” experts in digging down and cutting through geological eras, cataloguing the lot.
Review by Calvin Jolley
Brittney Corrigan’s “Anthropocene Blessing: Corpse Flower” begins with a masterful assembly of words: “skirted spathe” and “maroon pleats” and “massive spadix” and “careful greenhouses.” What a splendid array… until the poem succumbs to an alliteration of the “blessing” in its title. The “May you” and “You who” distract us from a poem that begins with radical promise. It’s as if the writer frees herself of literary convention before choosing, for no good reason, to return.
Review by Jared Pearce
The comparison between the flower and the human is gorgeous: the sexuality, the consideration of beauty and death, how eating and being eaten, gain and loss, are endemic to both people and blossoms. Longinus mentions that one way to create the sublime is to draw a correlation between two opposite things, and this poem moves in several sublime ways.