Sensuous, brainy and cardiovascular, Garden Physic is a cutting-edge ode to plants, teeming with human knowledge and natural mystery, accompanied by gem-like illustrations by the poet.

The Guardian
cover image of the book The Principle of Rapid Peering

The Principle of Rapid Peering

Self-seeding wind
is a wind of ever-replenishing breath.

—from “The Walk, or The Principle of Rapid Peering”

The title of Sylvia Legris’ melopoeic collection The Principle of Rapid Peering comes from a phrase the nineteenth-century ornithologist and field biologist Joseph Grinnell used to describe the feeding behavior of certain birds. Rather than waiting passively for food to approach them, these birds live in a continuous mode of “rapid peering.” Legris explores this rich theme of active observation through a spray of poems that together form a kind of almanac or naturalist’s notebook in verse. Here is “where nature converges with words,” as the poet walks through prairie habitats near her home in Saskatchewan, through lawless chronologies and mellifluous strophes of strobili and solstice. Moths appear frequently, as do birds and plants and larvae, all meticulously observed and documented with an oblique sense of the pandemic marking the seasons. Elements of weather, ornithology, entomology, and anatomy feed her condensed, inflective lines, making the heart bloom and the intellect dance.

Features drawings by the poet.

More Information
cover image of the book Garden Physic

Garden Physic

  • With illustrations, photographs, and maps

Sylvia Legris’s Garden Physic is a paean to the pleasures and delights of one of the world’s most cherished pastimes: Gardening!

“At the center of the garden the heart,” she writes, “Red as any rose. Pulsing / balloon vine. Love in a puff.” As if composed out of a botanical glossolalia of her own invention, Legris’s poems map the garden as body and the body as garden—her words at home in the phytological and anatomical—like birds in a nest. From an imagined love-letter exchange on plants between garden designer Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson to a painting by Agnes Martin to the medicinal discourse of the first-century Greek pharmacologist Pedanius Dioscorides, Garden Physic engages with the anaphrodisiacs of language with a compressed vitality reminiscent of Louis Zukofsky’s “80 Flowers.” In muskeg and yard, her study of nature bursts forth with rainworm, whorl of horsetail, and fern radiation—spring beauty in the lines, a healing potion in verse.

More Information
cover image of the book The Hideous Hidden

The Hideous Hidden

In her first full-length collection published in the United States, Sylvia Legris probes and peels, carves and cleaves, amputates and dissects, to reveal the poetic potential of human and animal anatomy.

Starting with the Greek writings of Hippocrates and the Latin language of medicine, and drawing from Leonardo da Vinci’s Anatomical Manuscripts, the dermatologist Robert Willan’s On Cutaneous Diseases (1808), and Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil, Legris infuses each poem with unique rhythms that roll off the tongue. The Hideous Hidden boldly celebrates anatomy’s wonders: “Renounce the vestibule of non-vital vitals. / Confess the gallbladder, / the glandular wallflowers, / the objectionable oblong spleen."

More Information
cover image of the book Poetry Pamphlets 1–4

Poetry Pamphlets 1–4

New Directions is happy to announce the publication of a new series of Poetry Pamphlets, a reincarnated version of the “Poet of the Month” and “Poets of the Year” series James Laughlin published in the 1940s, which brought out such eclectic hits as William Carlos Williams’s The Broken Span, Delmore Schwartz’s poetic play Shenandoah, John Donne’s Some Poems and a Devotion, and Yvor Winters’s Giant Weapon, among many others. The New Directions Poetry Pamphlets will highlight original work by writers from around the world, as well as forgotten treasures lost in the cracks of literary history.

Included in this set of four are:

Sorting Facts, or Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker, by Susan Howe

Two American Scenes, by Lydia Davis & Eliot Weinberger

Pneumatic Antiphonal, by Sylvia Legris

The Helens of Troy, New York, by Bernadette Mayer

More Information
cover image of the book Pneumatic Antiphonal

Pneumatic Antiphonal

A fun, humming, bio-physiological word-whizzing flight into birdsong penned by the young Canadian poet Sylvia Legris — her first publication in the U.S.

The theory of corpuscular flight is the cardinal premise of red birds carrying song-particles carrying oxygen. Erythrocytic. Sticky. Five quarts of migration.
More Information

Sensuous, brainy and cardiovascular, Garden Physic is a cutting-edge ode to plants, teeming with human knowledge and natural mystery, accompanied by gem-like illustrations by the poet.

The Guardian

An impressive achievement—one facilitated by the poet’s singular, “wild-thoughted” vocabulary.

Isabel Galleymore, Times Literary Supplement

This is gardening on the level of Hecate or Baba Yaga: sorcerous, numinous, cunningly manipulating the chemical elements of life and death. And in keeping with this magic, Legris’s love for language plays unbounded among the joys of the botanical lexicon.

Paul J. Pator, LARB

In The Hideous Hidden, Legris performs a poetic autopsy that untethers the language of the body and its “hideous hidden” from the morgue, the medical lab, the anatomy book—spaces from which women for centuries were long excluded—and creates from the history and language of this body her own stranger thing.

Adriana X. Jacobs, Music & Literature

Legris’s microscopic attention is compelling and seductive, and from that narrow view it unexpectedly expands to tackle past and present, scientific and literary, private and public, and the rich histories that go with these dichotomies. Pulsing with secretions and excretions, her poetry saturates our imagination and invigorates our curiosity.

Eleanor Chandler, Prac Crit

In her hands, language refracts in ways which break open etymology. Legris’s poems build like chords from sub- to super-sonic and, even at their most rapid and heightened point, sustain the force of poetic enquiry. There is always, as she says, ‘something on your hook, you feel it.’

Griffin Prize Citation

Her work crackles with exuberant wackiness.


Rapidly gets deep and electric as the corded nerves running through the spinal channel.

Lightsey Darst, Bookslut

The Hideous Hidden peels back the skin and takes us on a tour of our ‘fleshes,’ our ‘complicated riddle of meats,’ the ‘Vast. Vas. Vascular. Bladder-drenched city of organs.’ It is a tour de force through the vocabulary of the body’s parts and functions in sickness and health, waking and sleeping. With more than a passing glance at the history of its description. Most of all, it is a book that makes anatomy sing.

Rosmarie Waldrop
Scroll to Top of Page