Review: Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota: Poems by Amelia Gorman

cover of Field Guide to Invasive Species of MinnessotaField Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota: Poems by Amelia Gorman
Interstellar Flight Press (September 6, 2021)
62 pages; $11.99 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

At first glance, Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota is not a book of horror poetry, or speculative poetry at all. It reads, on the surface, like a book of nature poems, possibly odes to or personifications of the titular invasive species. However, reading the author’s notes, it becomes clear the book and its poems are set in the near-future. If the world is not post-apocalyptic, or even apocalyptic, it’s certainly leaning that way, and nature is beginning to rear her powerful head and reclaim what’s rightfully hers, and Gorman is there to record all the awful details.

What makes this book interesting is how some species that are so common, and occasionally encouraged, are seen as invasive. One example of this is “Earthworms.” Earthworms are usually seen as friends to gardeners and fishermen alike, but the University of Minnesota argues that they are, indeed, invasive species and that there are no native earthworms in Minnesota. They consume the duff layer in hardwood forests, reducing the amount of compostable material for the native plants and trees. So, when Gorma writes

Dumped as so much half-bait
into brown lakes, algae-stained
by motors who had no faith
in our resurrection

dropped in water, in soil,
in swamp and concrete, underneath
the collapse we entwine

the poem becomes almost nightmarish. Here, earthworms are multiplying and consuming and replacing buildings and statues with a writhing, wriggling horde. This kind of intelligence and research combined with a speculative slant makes for really strong, and terrifying, poetry.

Elsewhere, it seems that Gorman is speaking to someone else, and the invasive species of the poem is simply an accessory to the near-future pre-apocalypse. For example, in in “Norway Maple,” she writes

Now you and I tolerate pollution
as well as the trees
only a few tar spots on our lungs,
felt gall on our skin.

This is a horrific reality in which a species that was transplanted to the U.S. for its shade and adaptability has taken over the habitat of the native red maple and created a monoculture so thorough that it’s possible to tap the trees for sap and create a syrup from them.

Overall, this is an eerie collection, especially upon rereading. Amelia Gorman takes very innocuous, even deceptively helpful, species that are, by definition, invasive and turns their natural conquest into a near-future, preapocalyptic nightmare. What makes it more chilling is the cautionary aspect of this book. This is not a far-distant future, but one in which readers could very well be alive and experience. The subtle but overwhelming horror of this realization builds deceptively through the book until readers are left with a sense of dread upon completion. This is a magnificent collection that any horror reader will enjoy.

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