Review: “Drowning in the Floating World”


Drowning in the Floating World, by Meg Eden
Press 53, 2020, 80 pages
ISBN 978-1-950413-15-7

“a disassembled toy city left / to be cleaned up. Where / to begin? One man in the middle”

Where to begin, indeed. Poet Meg Eden’s collection Drowning in the Floating World, due to be published in March 2020 by Press 53, takes as its subject the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011—the most severe nuclear accident to occur since Chernobyl. As the title suggests, water is an all-encompassing presence, and I admire Eden’s effort to wrap her verses around this most ancient of themes.

This is a collection not only of individual pieces but also of poetic forms. It contains villanelles, free verse, haiku, found poetry, litanies, ekphrastic, and, intriguingly, spreadsheets (perhaps an underrated vessel for literary expression). The perspective and voice of the pieces move through the events aftermath like a patient, observant spirit, into living and non-living subjects, organic and inorganic, giving us their expressions of being.  One piece takes its form from reviews of the Power Plant found on Google, sorted by “Most Helpful.” This interjection of the digital world seems necessary—it is the means by which we experience such events, through the distance of our screens.

The pieces in this collection respond to the components of disaster in a declarative fashion, reaffirming their position, their life, in despair, hope, melancholy, and determination. From “A Poem by Fukushima Daiichi”:

I am Titanic.
I do not need testing.
I am a planner – I have
back-up plans for my back-up plans.

This affirmation is appropriate, and Eden makes time for each element to unfold in its own way. In “Rumiko / A Series of Possessions”:I let go and wake up / relieved, my body light. / I remember who I am: / a woman about to be married.” It’s an overview of a landscape, a survey of damage and struggle to reclaim, constructed through multiple points of intimate portraiture.

An author might run the risk of inducing vertigo when tackling such intense subject matter; Eden, however, lets the macro view emerge naturally through vignettes. Moving from form to form, perspective to perspective, she retains a careful, smooth style that is complemented by moments of intensity, fire, and doubt.

Drowning and floating function in opposite directions, toward opposite densities. Our precarious stability lies in the middle, where things are ordered and continuous. The disaster caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami was natural, an event as old as the Earth; the presence of nuclear power added to it a human-made, devastating component. There is a feeling of incongruency when the manmade becomes part of an indiscriminate form of devastation and a part of our image of disassembly. Eden’s collection of poems sifts through the waterlogged, damp remains and animates with a delicate touch—by naming, by cataloging, by whatever means appropriate—what has been worn down by disaster.

But this is not an elegy, as illustrated by the collection’s final poem “Baptism.” The drowning is not a dying, but rather contains the elements of rebirth.