“Tropic Then” Ray DiZazzo (2Leaf Press) – book review

Ray DiZazzo Tropic Then Book cover

Ray DiZazzo’s “Tropic Then” is a mix of poetry and short prose that takes on board climate change concerns and explores ways humanity is turning in on itself, making the same mistakes over and over. The David Attenborough quote, used in the book, seems to sum this up, “We’re suffocating ourselves by cutting things down. And the awful thing is that knowledge is there. Fifty years ago when we exterminated things, we did it without realizing. Now there’s plenty of evidence of what it is we’re doing. And yet we keep on doing it.”

The collection starts in the tropics with “Then” which ends,

“It was the wings of a single moth
trembling on the trunk
of a giant cedar

deep inside
a rainforest breathing on the stars.”

The details humans miss as they seek to exploit and attempt to control nature. Its interconnectedness, from giant trees to small insects, each has an interdependence. Yet the sense of control enables humans to think they are outside this interlinking. Nature here, isn’t cute. DiZazzo is well aware of the prey/predator balancing within ecosystems. Here a python slides up a tree,

“its stunning
tongue in
on the scent
and pulse
of dreaming

The lines of the poem undulate from the left margin, mimicking the snake’s movements. Its skin is still considered “stunning” despite the fact it will help itself to one of those pups. But the snake is eating to survive, not taking a pup for the sake of taking one.

The collection doesn’t just focus on animals. In “The Climb”, “There is a way of breathing/ known to those who’ve/ walked to the sky on stones and ice,” and the poem ends,

“of joy
in boot-print slush
crunching on the peak
of an impossible summit.”

The delight in achieving, getting to the mountain’s peak is felt. This need for achievement though only seems to be felt by humans. The python doesn’t get a sense of joy from climbing the tree, its desires are only about sating hunger. Only a human would climb a mountain because it’s there. This sense of the wonder of being out in nature is picked up again in a later poem, “Yosemite”. Nature offers humans a chance to re-connect and be soothed by their surroundings. It’s a message more humans need to sense.

Darker poems emerge too. “The Dark” is about Bouncing Betties, bombs used during Vietnam War. An elderly parent with Alzheimer’s in a poem with the same name talks, “into the mouths of children/ we have never known/ but think we’ve/ given life to.” The Alzheimer’s-ridden parent isn’t sure that their own children are theirs anymore. The grief from such a loss is from both the parent and the children. “The Walls” starts

is iso


Boundaries are negative, they prevent the interconnectedness that humans sometimes think they don’t need or can do without. But there’s no description of what the walls are made of. These walls might be brick or they might be imaginary, isolation brought about by illness or dementia. An inability to be social is problematic.

“The Sea Wall”, a short story, threads inbetween two viewpoints. A 67-year-old mother, i.e. old enough to be retired but not significantly old, has left the house to walk by the sea wall. According to her adult children, this is not the first time she’s wander off by herself. One of the children tells the other to, “celebrate having some peaceful, free time to yourself”, while the other questions, “Our perpetually depressed mother, a 67-year-old deaf-mute, is missing on a cold foggy night, and I’m supposed to celebrate?” The first isn’t sympathetic, thinking his sister’s done enough caring. The sister and carer is on medication for anxiety, there’s no suggestion that caring is a dutiful, saintly option here. He later tells her, “No, she’s the horrible one. I get that she’s isolated because she can’t speak or hear, but Christ, that’s not our fault, and that’s life.”

Interspersed between the adult children’s dialogue, the mother slips into the water,

“she was blinded by a brilliant blue-sky waving and swaying above her. She was underwater on her side, looking up, seeing the refracted sunlight flash and bounce across the surface.
………….And as she looked into the glare, she realized she saw, from below, a shorebird—a Killdeer. It stood on her shoulder on its long spindly legs, just where the water leveled off. It dipped its beak below the surface to touch her skin, then lifted its head to the sky as its tail, white breast, and collars of black feathers ruffled in the morning breeze.”

The two halves of the story run in parallel, never meeting. It’s left to the reader to decide whether the adult children mount a search and how they react when their mother is found. It acknowledges the unmet needs: the children never really had a mother who was present and the mother isn’t getting the care she needs. The adult children react in different ways, the son washes his hands of her only stepping in when his sister calls for help. His sister takes on the difficult role of carer. The mother in her walk along the sea wall does not once think of her children.

“Tropic Then” combines climate, natural and humanitarian concerns. The poems explore attitudes towards the natural world and towards each other. DiZazzo’s focus is on interconnectedness whether the interrelationships that allow ecosystems to thrive or how families treat and care for each other. A successful family, like a successful ecosystem, is capable of catering for all needs and enables the vulnerable to be taken care of. How a child is cared for will shape their attitude when elderly parents need care. How does one generation shape the next and does the next generation continue the same mistake patterns or challenge and change their behaviour? DiZazzo thinks we need to reconnect and learn from nature’s teachers and his method is not polemic or rant but through example and persuasion.

“Tropic Then” is available from 2LeafPress.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.


One Response to ““Tropic Then” Ray DiZazzo (2Leaf Press) – book review”

  1. Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 16 – Via Negativa Says:

    […] Emma Lee, “Tropic Then” Ray DiZazzo (2Leaf Press) – book review […]

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