“Grackledom: Poetry/Prints/Penpets Drawings” by Leslie Moore; Littoral Books, Portland, Maine, 2023; 92 pages, paperback, $20.

Leslie Moore, of Belfast, seems to be building up something of a following for her poetry and printmaking work, and her new book, “Grackledom,” is likely to further expand her community of readers.

First of all, the title is delightful. This book is about the natural domain where grackles live, not to mention shag, ospreys, great blue herons, owls, gulls, hawks, humans and at least one artist who died young and is expected to return as a bird—all of whom are the subjects of poems or of craftily composed and colored prints reproduced in the book. There are also poems about squirrels, chipmunks and bears, and the last section, titled “Cats & Dogs,” comprises 13 poems about goings-on in the poet’s Belfast neighborhood, especially between pets, owners and residents.

Poems about animals run a strong risk of gratuitous cuteness. But, while “Grackledom” depicts a lot of amusingly cute moments (an acrobatic squirrel on the front lawn is a “Simone Biles / of the animal world”), the fact is that all the poems have multiple dimensions. This multi-dimensionality stems partly from Leslie’s careful attention to what animals’ shenanigans seem to indicate about their mental lives, and partly from her deft mastery of language.

These conversational yet crisply made lines open “Black Bear Valentine,” for example:


Ever since I read the story about a black bear bunking


down under a deck in Connecticut, I’ve checked under my mud

room each morning to see if you might be denning there.


I long to have my own great slab of bear snoozing under

my house, bulked up 500 lbs., big as a sofa. A real Ursa Major.

Nothing minor about you.



The rhythm is picture perfect, the diction exact and realistic with no wasted word, and the jokes are literate and, well, delightful. Alexander Pope would approve if he could get past the open form lines. These components are characteristic of the whole book, and of Moore’s poetry overall.

There is also in these poems a bedrock of literary and cultural knowledge that can set off allusive chain reactions, if you’re so attuned. My own imagination was seized early when I found “Herons” (a subject already attracting the attention of an errant backyard naturalist) subtitled “after ‘Waxwings’ by Robert Francis.”Francis’s poem, famous among nature poets, opens with: “Four Tao philosophers as cedar waxwings / chat on a February berry bush / in sun, and I am one.” Leslie’s opening is a direct echo:


Four great blues meditate

on mudflats—spar-straight,


stock-still—and I am one of them.


Spotting allusions like this is gratifying, especially when each poem adds dimension to the other. But in this case for me, a fifth dimension also unfolded.

Tom Sexton, a sometime resident of Eastport and former poet laureate of Alaska, awhile back sent me a poem titled “To Robert Francis” and another titled “Waxwings in an Apple Tree.” The latter begins: “While on my morning walk after reading / Robert Francis’ poem about waxwings, / his Tao philosophers sitting in a berry bush, // I see their cousins in a wild apple tree / heavy with fermenting apples. / Do they meditate, contemplate the way?” As far as I know neither Leslie nor Tom was aware of the other’s poems. But for me, one reader, a sort of triangular depth ensues in which Leslie’s and Robert’s sense of unification with the birds spills in my mind into Tom’s poems.

It’s a gratifying reading experience. And more, it’s like a superluminal conversation. A sense of interconnectedness transpires, as if readers, like the complex of sentient animal beings living in your neighborhood and woods, were part of a larger ecosystem made of reading.

Leslie Moore’s depictions of animals are warm, thoughtful, frequently funny. But I have a feeling this subtle sense of interconnectedness is playing the larger role in the expansion of her reading audience.

Moore’s previous book is “What Rough Beasts.”  “Grackledom” is available through local and online book sellers.

Leslie Moore will be reading from “Grackledom” starting at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Local Color Gallery in Belfast.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Friday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at dwilde.offradar@gmail.com.

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