Spare, haunting, deliberate, with cadence and clarity, Tanya Holtland brings human recklessness toward our environment to bear in her debut collection Requisite (published by Platypus Press). Of course the scientists play the lead role in combating climate change. Yet in these spacious, rapturous pages, Holtland reminds me that the poets may have an equal role to play in defining our error and walking us back from the edge.
Somewhere in the middle, Holtland wonders, “What in us needs to die first / for the rest to continue living?” I read those two lines as a thesis bounded by the book’s dedication, which reads, “For H & F, and possibility.” We are not a dead species, as much death as we have wrought. And Holtland isn’t ready to say our extinction is guaranteed.
The wonder of the book is in how it navigates between the personal and the collective, defining an individual ache even as solutions must extend beyond any one human’s reach. All the while a deliberate spirituality weaves itself among the plastic thorns we’ve created and the leafy world we could commune with differently.
In the introduction, Holtland notes, “How long in the awakening are those of us born into western culture and industry, even amid the clear and collateral harms of late capitalism.” Note that she is not asking a question. Then, the project and the poetry begin by proclaiming, “It’s not impossible / to break with illusion.”
Especially notable is Holtland’s brilliant use of space. Each gap, space, and injunction of white page is deliberate and evocative. It all lends the collection a masterful sense of control as the reader is given the space to imagine and engage on a spiritual level.
The spatial construction forces an admittance of my difficulty in emotional engagement with most religious texts as they cram words in with little margin and tiny font. Thus, by giving her text elbow room, nature is made to feel supernatural while feeling equally human and relatable.
Dwelling on these links to the spiritual is not to say that warnings do not exist. Any poetic endeavor about the dangers of ecological collapse would be remiss not to chide us for our ignorance and naivety for having let things get where they are. Even though they feel like whispers they cannot be ignored, Holtland reminding us, “It is easier to believe it’s mostly volcanic, the way change comes.”
And later, “hold that erosion is easier than building.”
And perhaps the loudest of the bunch: “all you cling to burns itself out / of carbon and the deepest strata.”
This is sublime poetry. I am astonished at how complete and free of misstep Holtland’s debut proves to be. Regarding a topic that could easily be made too abstract or obtuse through poetic license, she grounds it in such relatable language and engaging structure that nobody could claim poetry such as this is hard to understand. Hard to swallow, perhaps, for it makes no mistakes in where our future lies. And still she believes humanity might rise, might reason differently.
So I will leave you with the lines I have jotted out in anticipation of posting near my desk as reminder of what I often miss in the cacophony of being human:
“Care as best you can, as close to the sun as possible,
for the things that won’t always be living:
an orchid, a decision,
the fern in the kitchen with its silent little droop,
a preschooler, a depression
in the foliage reminds us of the need for the universal—
an interior to manage the lines that break
and run endless within you.”