In addition to being a scientist, entomology professor, and editor-in-chief of American Entomologist, Gene Kritsky is also an art enthusiast and a scholar of insects in literature and the arts. He has co-authored articles about insect drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, insects in paintings by the sixteenth-century Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and the surreal insect images of Salvador Dalí.
Now he is taking on insects in poetry as third co-editor of a new eBook called The American Entomologist Poet’s Guide to the Orders of Insects, which includes about 90 poems that date from the seventeenth century up to the present, with at least one poem for each insect order. Contributors include three U.S. Poets Laureate (W. S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, and Ted Kooser), and luminaries such as John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Jonathan Swift, John Donne, and many others.
The lead editor of the collection is Bruce Noll, whose poetry has appeared in numerous journals, periodicals, and anthologies over the past twenty years. He has published two poetry collections, The Gospel Edits and Notes to My Mortician, and for the past 44 years his dramatic interpretation of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass has been seen across the U.S. and in five other countries.
The second editor, Jessee Smith, is an artist who makes and sells insect-inspired jewelry through her Etsy shop, Silverspot Studio. She has also contributed two poems and a wood engraving of a tiger beetle to the new book. The three editors have reviewed hundreds of insect-related poems over the past two years as part of the selection process.
The new ebook is available from Amazon.com for just $3.99, which comes with the ability to download future editions of the book for free when — not if, according to the editors — they decide to add new material. All of the proceeds will go to the Entomological Society of America.
“We hope that the words of these poets will reveal anew the wonder, beauty, intricacy, and importance of these most successful animals on Earth,” Kritsky writes in the preface. “Just as entomologists strive to collect representatives of all the insect species, we have assembled a collection of poems that includes every insect order.”
Indeed, even the image on the book’s cover — an overhead view of a beetle, as if it were lying in a specimen tray — reflects the notion of collecting insects and poems simultaneously.
“Entomologists sometimes find it difficult to explain their fascination with insects, so we’ve enlisted poets do the explaining for us,” said Dr. Kritsky. “We hope that this collection, the American Entomologist Poet’s Guide to the Orders of Insects, will help communicate the wonders of the insect world as seen from a poet’s perspective.”
Here are a few examples of what you’ll find in the book:
By Alfred Lord Tennyson
Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.
By Bruce Noll
Why give us the
handle of snake fly?
We have nothing to do
with serpents and never
have been seen to go
slithering on bellies.
We do have legs you know.
like swans and herons
or geese who all have
Just for laughs you
could have named
us after the giraffe.
But to tag us with
a fly and a snake?
Why that’s an insult
doubly hard to take.