» Book Review
An Array of Possibilities
A Brief History of Fruit by Kimberly Quiogue Andrews
University of Akron Press, 2020
My copy of Kimberly Quiogue Andrews’ A Brief History of Fruit soon ran out of page corners to dog-ear. After reading each poem, I had to read it again; I didn’t want to misread any lines or miss any new words. And when I finished this collection, I returned to all the words I had circled, delighted not only by the poems in what has become one of my favorite collections of the year, but by how much they had taught me. A small sampling of the words this collection added to my vocabulary:
As I searched for my circled words, I found myself rereading each poem, and then the entire collection, in its entirety. It is a collection that rewards re-reading. Andrews signals her attention to the meanings of words—and asks for readers’ attention to the same—in poems such as “n: Shield, or Shell Covering”:
Swaddling provides a newborn with a sense of the womb’s safety.
I fold countries around myself, false familiarity, some serene carapace.
That “carapace” is the noun from the poem’s title: an object with a protective function, a kind of casing. But Andrews finds the tension between a swaddled baby and a suffocated self in a suffocating country in a way that feels both heartbreaking and necessary. The poem renders this tension using a series of long couplets drawn across the page, with the second line of each couplet pairing carapace with a rhyming, rhythmic, hypnotic sequence of modifiers: crystalline, serene, unseen.
In “The Collapse,” Andrews combines her playfulness about the meanings of words—“Ravine (n): a place where it is difficult to build condominiums”—with a formal inventiveness that uses the page as a way to think critically about what white space means in the poem and in the world. Through these formal choices, Andrews makes the connections between whiteness, capitalism, and ecological disaster both evident and non-negotiable. The poem opens with an epigraph about Manila’s infamous mountain of garbage, the collapse of which killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the summer of 2000. Andrews, though—whose mother was born in the Philippines—follows the epigraph with a passage that suggests an impatience with the need for storytelling as a rhetorical device:
Is it alright if I just go ahead and say
that the moral of this story
will have something to do with the scourge of capitalism? Will you keep reading?
This poem is frenetic and challenging, cataloging Manila’s financial growth and environmental ruin with an anger that at times transforms into reverence: “all hail the need for condominiums / all hail Manila’s 10,000 tonnes per day.” These images, stacked one on top of another, threaten their own form of collapse, mirroring the compounding pressures of capital and climate change.
If there is a feeling of helplessness that comes from the magnitude of the current disaster facing us, what Andrews does so well across the collection is face these impossible catastrophes. She arrives to the page with new ways to communicate loss, absence, and grief. The language with which we understand the climate change that may destroy us is also the language we use to understand the elements that give us life. Andrews converges these lexical groups in “Pastoral,” where words such as “environment” and “field” and “America” can and do hold a number of meanings:
By field, I mean both the expanse across which
        
and the sum of all possible relations between a person
and the objects in their environment
By America, I mean the sighing sense of moving from body to
        
A Brief History of Fruit is inventive, textured, and deeply interesting. One of the many powers of this collection is the way it navigates possibility. Andrews writes into questions such as, How do we name ourselves? How do decide who we are? How does one name and navigate the world? These poems are fervent explorations of the capacity for language to name what can’t be named and to help us understand tensions that, as argued by Diane Seuss—who selected the collection as winner of the Akron Poetry Prize—do not “resolve; [because] to resolve would equal self-abandonment.” And to pretend to resolve the questions at the heart of this collection—for one, “What does it mean to live in a country?”—would be far less interesting than what Seuss rightfully says that Andrews does so well: to “inventory a parallel history.”