(Persea Books, 2010)
Finalist for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets
This collection portrays the gripping history of polar exploration by channeling its most notable figures—Symmes, Mawson, Scott, Cherry-Garrard, Byrd, and Shackleton among them. From their perspectives and her own, Elizabeth Bradfield relays the wonders and dangers, physical and mental, encountered while endeavoring to reach the earth's least-hospitable regions.
"These poems are adventures in far more than subject matter. Their themes, to be sure,
involve risk and stoicism, the testing of the will and the spirit needed to confront icy wastes.
This alone gives this book a splendid narrative consistency. But the poems, in terms of craft
and music, push out boundaries as well. They also take risks and prove their mettle. This is
a wonderful collection."
"Meticulously researched, but never stunted by research, these poems eschew easy drama to look instead at the complex desires that drive us into the earth's frozen regions—and at the haunting outcomes of those desires. In her vivid, unsentimental poetry, Bradfield is both chronicler and active lover, braiding across the pages the gloss-ice strands of history, landscape, and personal longing."
"Approaching Ice chilled me and warmed me. It got me up walking around and thinking a million things, and threw me back down to read more. It's a high latitude book, a storm, a soundless daybreak at the end of the world, an exquisite investigation into why we explore. I loved it."
—Kim Heacox, author of Shackleton: The Antarctic Challenge
(read poems from Approaching Ice)
Reviews of Approaching Ice
Approaching Ice engages with the history of science by focusing on the human quest to reach and explore the poles, then refracting and multiplying many glimpses of that quest.
—Emily Grosholz American Scientist
In her Arctic, bodies fracture, assistants plot mutiny, and the elements prevail.
Bradfield, however, stokes fires of sex under the bleak sheets of loss.
—Evan McGarvey New Letters (pdf)
This poetic atlas (composed mostly in free verse) contains a satisfying variety of forms and poetic effects, ensuring that readers approach each page like an explorer—not anticipating the expected, but excited to discover something new.
—Nick Bascom, The Bellingham Review
In the poems Bradfield does not glorify the polar terrain or its exploration. Great men fail here more than they triumph; birds leave droppings everywhere, and travelers eat their dead ponies... The explorers who populate a series of narrative poems stink of unwashed flesh, and their teeth rot from malnutrition. In "Polar Explorer Richard Evelyn Byrd (1933)" Bradfield writes, "Some trials seem contrived/ for the weight of accolades they'll bring." Such lines will leave readers pondering the motivations behind our explorations.
—Natalie Storey, Coldfront
At once erotic and unnatural, scientific, and humane, the work presents a beautiful and grim and threatened lexicon of ice and icebergs. Examining "the age-old lust for places/ we pretend are free of consequence," Bradfield also reminds us of our ultimate limitation—mortality—and of the faint human traces any of us, even the boldest, leave.
—Tess Taylor, The Barnes & Noble Review
Approaching Ice is a naturalist's history of Antarctica. Within these poems, Bradfield is as much a historian as an artist. Through poems dedicated to Polar explorers, like John Cleves Symmes, James Weddell, Ernest Shackleton, and Lynne Cox, Bradfield narrates the history of exploration of Antarctica in a way that appears to progress linearly through the book, but Approaching Ice is not simply a historical accounting. Bradfield takes these stories of explorers and previous expeditions and transforms them with the immediacy of the lyric moment. She blends the past and the present with cool, icy precision, then warms it with her own, deeply personal and intimate.
—Julie Enszer, Lambda Literary, April 2010
Elizabeth Bradfield's passion for her subject and her acuity and great sensitivity to language make Approaching Ice a fine collection that will fit nicely on shelves of natural history books as well as those for poetry.
—Jennifer Jefferson, The Rumpus, May 2010
In What the Ice Gets (2000), Melinda Mueller versified the astonishing story of Shackleton's second Antarctic expedition, vividly individuating its members and making their endurance after the ship (the Endurance) was lost almost palpable in one of the great tours de force of contemporary American poetry. Bradfield's second collection approaches as near as any could to Mueller's achievement by alternating verse profiles of polar explorers from John Cleve Symmes in 1820 to swimmer Lynne Cox in 2002, poems on the polar experience, and brief prose responses to the definitions of terms related to ice in a sailor's vade mecum first published in 1802. While the biographical and experiential poems prove white-knuckle reading, for such is the intensity with which Bradfield conjures the strong characters of the explorers and the sensations of traveling and living in extreme cold, the responses play with the definitions and, along with certain tropes in the poems, subtly suggest a double reading of the book as a whole, in which the coldness of the poles becomes the chilling of hearts once in love.
—Ray Olson, Booklist, December 2009
In poems both descriptive and intimate ("What has exploration ever yearned for/ but settlement in a new and untried place"), Bradfield examines nearly 200 years of polar exploration, recounting tales of the famous (Shackleton, Peary, Byrd,) and not so famous (Shirase, Henson, Boyd). She writes with humanity about those who were arguably a bit mad, showing sympathy for the explorers, the creatures they encountered, and the families they left behind. Juxtaposed against these accounts are comments on the many varieties of ice, as defined by Nathaniel Bowditch's standard, The American Practical Navigator: "Ice fog. Just another texture to stumble through. Another way to lose/ yourself in water." There is no stumbling in these factually accurate poems. Good stories, yes, but inherent throughout is a subtle message, as seen in a poem dedicated to Bering: "So the age-old lust for places/ we pretend are free of consequence/ The land ate them as they ate the land,/ calling it need, worrying about it later." Why did these men and women risk so much for discovery? As Bradfield suggests, they long "to touch/ the unspoiled." VERDICT Highly recommended for anyone who reads contemporary poetry.
—The Library Journal
...Prose poems built around sentences about ice from Nathaniel Bowditch's The American Practical Navigator interrupt what would otherwise be a steady chain of verse portraits, poetic snapshots, and adventure tales about expeditions to the coldest and least hospitable places on earth. Dogs and ponies are sacrificed, or sacrifice themselves; seals, at home in the cold, show by contrast how alien these "unintuitive lands" remain for us, with their "proof/ that imagination is not useless."... (Dec.)
—from Publisher's Weekly