Dancing with Chaos

Dancing with Chaos

By Patricia Monaghan
Clare, Ireland: Salmon Publishing, 2004. Paperback, 84 pages.

Patricia Monaghan has an unusual academic background bridging science and literature. She teaches literature and environmental studies at DePaul University in Chicago and has been called a “lay physicist" by professional physicists who appreciate her award-winning work as a poet and writer.

Patricia was a presenter at the Theosophical Society's Summer School at Olcott, whose theme was "Chaos, Order, and the Divine Plan." Reading from "In the Beginning," the opening poem in Dancing with Chaos, she elegantly conveyed the movement out from the formless sea of chaos that we recognize from Hesiod, Ovid, and The Stanzas of Dzyan.

Now let me tell you how things change,
new rising endlessly out of old,
everything altering, form unto form,
let me be the voice of mutability,
the only constant: in this world.

The poems from her "Voice of Mutability" draw on an understanding of chaos theory. The book contains a short: glossary that includes brief explanations of Mandelbrot's fractal geometry and other concepts alluded to in the verse for those who are not familiar with the language of chaos in contemporary physics.

But the poems draw on an even deeper understanding of the physics and poetry of grief that emerged when she experienced a sense of loss of control as she witnessed her husband dying of cancer. This poetic voice of mutability takes us on a tour in which we can sense how patterns are established, distorted, and transcended in the world around and within us.

In "The Butterfly Tattoo Effect," she shows how Charlene's desire "to be a little dangerous" at fifty by having the tattoo of a butterfly placed on her right shoulder in turn affects her friend Maggie and then Flo and then Paula until

the world awoke to news of
seismic convulsions
on every continent brought on by
the simultaneous shifting into high gear
of millions of women in sleek red cars.

In "The Poised Edge of Chaos," our guide tells us how

one grain at a time, a pattern is formed,
one grain at a time, a pattern is destroyed,
and there is no way to know which grain
will build the tiny mountain higher, which
grain will tilt the mountain into avalanche,
whether the avalanche will be small or
catastrophic, enormous or inconsequential.

Dancing with Chaos leaves one aware that there are really no insignificant beings or places in the mysterious wonder of our world. Even the smallest choice requires a humble mindfulness that one cannot foresee all the effects that will flow from it. In "Falling Bodies," we read:

Each time we move
we fall into time.
Dancing is simply
falling with grace.

These poems are moving and graceful, worthy of more than one reading, more than one dance.


January/February 2005