Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World: From J. G. Heck's 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science by Joshua Poteat
In this book-length series, poems with titles such as “Illustrating the theory of interference” and “Illustrating the construction of railroads” are paired with nineteenth-century engravings depicting phenomena from geology to astronomy to mechanics. Yet the poems relate to the images in an oblique rather than a direct way. Poteat uses this framework to construct a mysterious and engaging book that inhabits many worlds at once, bridging the real and the imagined, the traditional and the experimental, the surreal and the ordinary.
As each diagram and scene gives rise to a poem that intertwines the life of German artist and printer J. G. Heckimagined, as little is recordedwith Poteat’s own, the book reveals a preoccupation with landscape that encompasses both the precision of Heck’s carefully labeled sine waves and brass devices as well as the eeriness of his depictions of skeletal hands or dogs tearing apart a wounded boar. Poteat’s intense interest in the natural world is set against a sense of a world behind the world, where each living thing is properly named and the Spirit glows purposefully above the forest, ready to heal if asked in the correct manner.
From “Illustrating how to catch and manufacture ghosts”: Tonight there is no wind. Even the heat / is on its knees, and the moths laying eggs / on the side door are not being honest / with themselves. Though their enterprise / is beauty, the eggs will not last through / the rains, and so it goes. / A slug, fresh as cinnamon, steps through / the snuffed coals of my stove.
Ted Genoways is the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review. His first book, Bullroarer, won the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize, the Natalie Ornish Poetry Award, and the Nebraska Book Award.
Table of Contents
illustrating the illustrators 1
one Apparatus to show the amount of dew on trees and shrubs 5 Illustrating the theory of twilight 7 Illustrating the theory of interference 9 Illustrating the resistance of the ether 10 Illustrating the seventeenth century 11 Illustrating the destroyers 13 Illustrating the snow line 14 Illustrating that objects on earth can throw shadows into space 16 Apparatus for determining the specific heat of bodies 17 Illustrating the echo in arched rooms 19
two Illustrating the thirteen transits of Mercury in the nineteenth century 23
three Illustrating an answer to a question through the order in which a bird reveals letters by eating the grains set on top of them 39 Illustrating the chinquapin oak 41 Illustrating how to catch and manufacture ghosts 42 Illustrating the construction of railroads 44 Illustrating the manner of communicating vibrations to the air 45 Illustrating 47 Illustrating 49 Illustrating the theory of winds 51 Illustrating the theory of ebb and flow 52 Illustrating the machine that makes the world 53
appendix one the illustrators 57 the theory 58 the interference 60 the resistance 61 the seventeenth 62 the destroyers 63 the snow 64 objects shadows space 65 for specific bodies 66 the echo rooms 67 Ill 68 the ebb 69 Ill 70 the machine 71