Little Apocalypse
Wendy Battin. Ashland Poetry Press, 1997.

Jere Odell

Wendy Battin's second book Little Apocalypse earned her the Richard Snyder Memorial Publication Prize from the Ashland Poetry Press (her first book, In the Solar Wind was a National Poetry Series selection from Doubleday). Little Apocalypse deserves its award and more; it deserves readers.

As suggested by Battin's well-chosen epigraph ("They ought to make it a binding clause that if you find God you get to keep him." -Philip K. Dick), she fills her book with the intensity of a religious quest. Little Apocalypse is full of daring, thick with irony, paradox, and vision; it looks for the big questions and the big answers in small things. This is nowhere more obvious than in the final poem, "At the Synchrotron Lab." In this poem, about a particle accelerator at Cornell University, Battin finds the lyrical and the mysterious where other poets would meet only confusion. Here, she writes the central metaphor of her quest, and (in part) the originating principle of her book. The poem blends the scientific, the religious, and the poetic:

Downstairs they're arguing voltage and money,

and the quarks in their colors and flavors: up, down,
charm, strange, truth, and beauty,
real
as love or numbers, true
as a fable. Like this one: a woman walks over the earth

with a lamp, looking for One. She looks in the sky
as it blues and darkens . . . .
. . . . .
and she is unafraid.

Battin tells us in her notes that the "Robert Wilson Laboratory . . . where this poem is set, discovered the 'top' or 'truth' quark." From her vantage point, scientist and poet peer into the lab's dials looking for "truth" at the end of a world, even if that world exists (or ceases to exist) when electrons collide with positrons-the most minute of matters and anti-matters. Battin's poem (and book) ends:

The little apocalypse repeats and repeats. I can see it
in the dials, in the needles swinging. The digits roll up
in their windows. This lab
is full of the paraphernalia of light-the spectroscope,

oscilloscope, the meters and glassy lucite cable
coiled on the workbench like a failed basket-
to hold the flash that comes
when the matter breaks open, and whatever the numbers

say about the world. Is it only that the world
is in the numbers, in the tracks through the cloud chamber?
And in this probing: what I close
my hand on, name, forget. Then want again. (72-73)

In the midst of continual destruction "truth" is found, or is it?

Added to its internal coherence, its persistent searching, this book also has a carefully conside