Most of the poems in Gabriella Klein’s wise and beautifully strange debut collection, Land Sparing, are spoken—as so many contemporary lyric poems are—from the point of view of a first-person speaker, an “I.” But what a capacious and compassionate “I” Klein’s is: remarkably free of the seemingly autobiographical details attached to many first-person lyrics, as intimate with stars and owls as she is with her human family. In “Consensus,” we learn that Klein’s speaker has a daughter, a husband. Yet the poems are equally populated by—and familiar with—sunlight, lichens, mosquitoes, wind, and sky. They shift seamlessly between the speaker’s human consciousness and human loves, and the troubled, complex, and gorgeous earth she both inhabits and helps us to inhabit more fully.
The poems in Land Sparing enact a powerful sense of interconnection with the whole of the natural world. In “The Firmament,” Klein writes, “I mistook you for midnight,/the listing trees. But who is to say.” I love the music of the short “i” sounds here, the way “who is to say” ends with a period rather than a question mark. This brief, almost casual-seeming half-line resonates as statement more than question. We cannot say, Klein’s speaker intimates, we are not the night, the trees. We cannot say, at this frightening juncture of our relationship with the planet, that we are not, all of us, profoundly connected.
Klein’s speaker is deeply concerned with this connection, as well as with the enormous, unanswerable questions of where we come from, how things happen, and why. In this excerpt from “Consensus,” the speaker’s daughter’s confusion spirals out, as images in Klein’s poems often do, into the wide world and back to the human again, though when “Consensus” returns it does so even more inclusively, to a broader and richer sense of “we”:
Our daughter thinks
until I explain
she only came from me.
The sky rains and rain
all the more becomes the sea.
Each time the body
then outgrows itself.
My, my. We have been in the wind a long time.
Should the wind sheen down at sundown
the aloes will be unmoved.
I am taken with your talons,
your volatile oils
to purge and soothe.
As wind precedes fire
and fire precedes new.
Unruly dragon tongues, bright
blooms in winter. Rosettes of flesh.
To prepare for loss we must
practice mourning. I miss you.
I miss you.
I love the leaps Klein’s poems make, the way they are woven together by their own unique and quirky logic, as seen here, from the direct address to the aloes to the startling references to wind and fire and “new,” to the abstraction of “to prepare for loss…” and the directness of “I miss you” and its repetition which, in another, less surprising context, might seem trite or saccharine. Klein’s poems don’t reward quick or casual reading; they shift so rapidly and dazzlingly, and syntactically they are often, in the best sense of the word, odd. But once immersed in their world, it becomes easier, and deeply pleasurable, to ride the poems’ currents, as the speaker of “River Begin Again” rides the current in her inner tube.
Land Sparing is, at its center, a book about love. Human love and love of Earth and its particulars receive the same scrupulous attention, are accorded the same weight. Klein’s speaker often addresses what feels like a beloved, a “you,” who is both present and absent. As frequently, Klein’s poems speak directly to Earth, in a voice full of almost painful longing, as in these lines from “By My Stars”:
In my long wish, Earth, it is
sea after sea, with shocking shifting plates.
I’d sail all over you.
If you ask me to.
This longing, with its concurrent pulses of loneliness and grief, runs throughout Land Sparing. Yet the book also resounds with wild, almost giddy, hope. “Shed wings, you’ll grow wings,” Klein affirms in “Comes Trouble.” And the book’s final poem, “Index,” ends with this resonant, joyful opening-out:
the hillside leaf by leaf. One day I’ll give up remembering.
You and I and the grass will grow.
How beautifully forward-looking (“I’ll give up remembering”) and affirming these lines are, especially in the context of a book that takes our relationships with each other, and with the planet, so seriously. It would be hard to deny that these relationships are fraught with peril, the threat of vanishing. But in Klein’s honest yet expansive and generous vision, there is a future, one that includes “you” and “I” and the grass.