Kimiko Hahn’s Toxic Flora

When I think of poetry, one of the last things that comes to mind is the realm of science. To me, poetry speaks of strong emotions, vivid memories, and potential futures. Science just makes me think of igneous rocks and photosynthesis and gallbladders.

What’s so great about Kimiko Hahn’s 2010 poetry collection Toxic Flora, then, is that it manages to break into the often esoteric and daunting world of science and technology and fuse it with the beauty of poetry in an accessible way for the average person who might not be a STEM fanatic. Her newest collection connects the intricacies of life that we know oh so well to the profound strangeness of nature.

Her poems in this collection start off with knowledge gleaned from the science section of the New York Times, often presenting the facts in almost clinical and overly objective way. Each poem then shifts in tone to reveal a more personal reveal or insight. Recurring themes in Toxic Flora include relationship dynamics, conflicting identities, and female desire.

Hahn investigates the role of the mother in the family; whether she should choose work, choose her husband, choose her kids. She also explores when it is important to put yourself before others and difficulties that she’s had in reconciling her dual identities of white woman and Asian woman.  

Rather than tell you more about the work, I’ll let the poetry speak for itself. “Yellow Jackets—” is one of my favorite pieces from the collection.

yellow-jackets

“Yellow Jackets—” is a quintessential poem in the Toxic Flora collection, starting off by telling the reader about the Yellow Jacket’s venomous sting, which is unrelenting and numerous unlike that of a bee.

Without any clear transition, she jumps into the thoughts these facts stir within her. Hahn likens the Yellow Jacket to the bold and outspoken friend we all know who isn’t afraid to speak their mind.

She admires this figure’s candor and honesty, but shrinks at the idea of being so brazen. Touching and thoughtful, Hahn’s collection is filled with epiphanies and interesting connections between science and her personal life. She allows the reader to join her as she connects the external world with her internal world, and it isn’t a bad place to be. If you want to embark on this journey with Hahn and she navigates through the New York Times’ science section, I highly recommend Toxic Flora.         

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