Leslie Moore’s “What Rough Beasts” reads like a field notebook transformed into art. With depictions of birds and animals in 40 poems and 29 prints, Moore demonstrates her considerable skills as both poet and visual artist, creating fascinating conversations between image and text. These closely and lovingly observed creatures accompany Moore as teachers and companions on life’s journey.

A few creatures appear only in prints. “Great Blue Dance at Sunrise,” which opens the first section, “Naming the Birds,” captures the spectacular mating dance of two herons silhouetted against a red and yellow background, one adding to the stick nest, the other with its beak pointing straight up. Some creatures appear in poems but not prints. As one example of this, four poems are devoted to vivid depictions of the jagged appearance and loud presence of crows. One crow “ruffles off, / a black panic in feathers,” in “Riddle of the Crow,” while in “Murder!” a group of crows scream like banshees and “scissor the sky with sharp wings.”

Moore sometimes pairs poem with print to emphasize or echo a creature’s image. Bohemian waxwings, for example, are “black-masked” bandits and “silk-tailed, talkative, circumpolar / nomads” in the poem “Bush on Fire,” while they perch against a vivid blue sky in the print “Waxwings.” Likewise, the print “Evening Grosbeaks” shows four birds posed exactly the way they are described in “Harbingers,” as “a candelabra / in bare maple boughs.” In another such pairing, the print “Coyote Moon” shows a ghostly coyote prowling under an enormous moon, while the poem “Coyotes” teaches that we humans believe everything is ours, until those “nights when a choir of coyotes sings to the stars.”

In one case, Moore offers several prints of a creature with just one poem. The poem “Visitation,” in the second section, features a bear standing on his hind legs at the birdfeeder, filling “his empty craw.” The print opposite the poem, “Black Bear with Swagger,” depicts the bulky posture of a bear turning, weight shifting to his left front paw as it crosses over the right. Two earlier prints echo this vivid visitor. “Black Bear Ambling,” the cover art, is the swaggerer’s twin, while “Black Bear Singing in the Dead of Night,” shows a bear, snout lifted, mouth open, just above the book’s epigraph by Maxine Kumin: “Think of the language we two, same and not-same,/might have constructed from sign,/ scratch, grimace, grunt, vowel”.

Finally, the poet/artist presents a group of related poems with only one corresponding print. The three spider poems in the third section present a Daddy Longlegs in the bathroom, a common house spider in the doorway, and a colorful garden spider. The print “Black & Yellow Argiope” shows this third spider vivid against the garden’s green. “To a Garden Spider,” addresses the Argiope as a true totem: “What lessons do you teach me about solitude / and survival?”

Moore’s various ways of presenting her “beasts” create an immersive reading experience. Her close observations and vivid images insist that these creatures deserve our attention and respect. The collection is a meditation on the natural world and its innumerable lessons. It pays loving tribute to Moore’s personal list of totems. She shows how the three most prominent – crow, bear and spider – have much to teach us about industry and survival, strength and wisdom.


The collection’s final poem, “Monarch,” offers a lesson on transformation. The words flit and lift across two pages, while the image of the monarch nears the page edge, on her way out. Though she’s speaking in the monarch’s voice, the poet may also be reckoning with her own aging and eventual transformation, a fitting end to this collection, which insists on the richness and acceptance of each lived moment.


to spin

go inside




I want to emerge                                  shape shifted

seeking                          essence.


Jeri Theriault lives in South Portland. Her poems and reviews have appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, The Texas Review and elsewhere. She is a 2019 Maine Literary Award winner and the editor of “Wait: Poems from the Pandemic.” Find her at jeritheriault.com

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