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Book Review: Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts

Earlier this afternoon I had a wonderful conversation about the synthesis of science, art and literature with a quirky entrepreneur (thank you, Spaceworks Tacoma and Creative Colloquy for landing me in that exquisite moment).

Before the conversation was over, my brain started buzzing and whirring as I thought about some of my favorite, recent collaborations across media. Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts, a collection of poetry by Maya Jewell Zeller and visual arts by Carrie DeBacker, was the very first that came to mind.

I picked up Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts (which is a little beauty of a book) at the Cascadia Poetry Festival’s small press fair back in October, as I ambled from one publisher booth to the next. Eventually, I found my way to Entre Rios Books, where collaboration and multimedia are an integral part of the publishing company’s ethos.

I thumbed my way through of the books on the table before gravitating towards Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts, and I was immediately struck by not only the playfulness of the content on the page, but the seeming innocence and whimsy of the visual art and poetry inside. I fell in love so, so quickly.little-spell-with-a-ship-on-its-backOver the next few weeks, I read and reread the poems in Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts, marveling that Jewell Zeller was able to deliver earthy, intricate imagery and allude to gut-wrenching topics, all-the-while managing to keep the tone of the book light and hopeful.

The poems felt fresh and they left me full of wonder after each read: wonder at the author’s use of language rooted in biology, the natural world, science and medicine; and wonder at the illustrator’s ability to capture that same tone before instilling it with her own, quirky flavor. Much of the beauty of this book is in the synthesis of the soft edges of the art and the sharp language of the poems.little-spell-with-chest-xrayI also loved that the meat and the potatoes of the book, the poetry itself, is heartfelt and well-written. As a reader, each poem kept me on my toes with varied structure and placement on the page, use of repeated themes to evoke very different emotions in each poem, and subjects that virtually anyone can empathize with.

Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts and I can’t wait to go down a literary rabbit hole of the author’s, illustrator’s and publisher’s other works. I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the beauty of collaboration and/or the literary arts. It’s a feast for the eyes.







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