Life cycles – Fanny Staunton Ogilvie’s Trilogy

Fan Ogilvie’s ‘Dust is the Only Secret – Assent to Life ’ blends, physics, geology, nature and poetry.

Cover of “Dust is the Only Secret — Assent to Life.” by Fanny Staunton Ogilvie

There are many appellations one could bestow on Fanny Staunton Ogilvie, but that of Renaissance woman is especially appropriate after one reads her just-released poetry trilogy, “Dust is the Only Secret — Assent to Life.”

This oeuvre, the fourth of her published poetry collections, punctuates in the most personal and relatable forms Ogilvie’s ongoing relationship with the study of physics, biology, her spiritual questioning, love of the humanities, as well as her deep compassion.

Each poem warmly, and sometimes irreverently, welcomes the reader into direct and, many times, humorous, witty, and poignant layers of language. In Book One’s poem, “I Have Not Written Anything Yet,” Ogilvie gives us insight into her poetic motivations: “the smallest tiny detail arrests my attention … atoms /shattered atoms  /sunlight — dust the beginnings of all life   speed and its arrest  /breath of the universe expanding in exhalation  /contracting in inhalation … it turns out my favorite things are  /unquestionably dogs nudity and music. These are not small things nor is  /quantum gravity — but attention  /must be paid — to whom or to what?”

Satire and politics are well represented in poems like “What’s Wrong,” where Ogilvie writes, “Not to worry — you are not totally crazy.  /You are just in a rehearsal for a part  /you may or may not get — a shooter with seven firearms is in contention …”; in “And I Like America,” “Am not completely deaf  /Am not completely blind …”; and in “Life According To Clint Eastwood”: “Don’t put faith in any belief that does not  /include your infinitesimal tickturd of being …”

Ogilvie’s cycles of life and familial poems are also represented throughout. However, in “Book Three,” those written to, for, and about those family members and the inevitability of death take center stage. For her treasured and beloved brother, Platt, she penned “Follow the Ball” for Henry Platt Brightwell Staunton. Ogilvie writes from Platt’s voice as he addresses his own death: “God this is embarrassing … why can’t  /I get back up … I’m totally paralyzed.” By the end of this poem I was paralyzed also, in tears.

Among Ogilvie’s many cited influences is Emily Dickinson, and in one of the references to the book title, she aptly ends the trilogy with “Like Dickens”: “How we all end as dust — that we know …  /What we don’t know is how…”

Apart from the poetry, each chapter includes quoted passages from “The Sacred Depths of Nature” by Ursula Goodenough, one of Ogilvie’s friends and mentors, as well as prose sections about a nameless girl as she grows into womanhood. One can’t help but wonder if these bits of the girl/woman’s life aren’t somewhat autobiographical. 

Last but not least, Ogilvie’s own paintings, done on canvases in oil sticks and water-based oils, are interspersed throughout each volume. They beg the reader to stop, switch, be an observer and meditate on the constructed and deconstructed brushstrokes, colors, and shapes. Not only may we ask what she is interpreting through her art, but how her art awakens our own interpretations.

This tome is a tour de force. Through Fanny Ogilvie’s words, references, quotes, and her own artwork, we begin “To Understand,” “To Incorporate,” and “Let It Go” with a laugh, a tear, respect, and gratitude for all life, our universe, and for this author extraordinaire.



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