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Evolution of the Genus Iris  
  Robert Michael Pyle

ISBN 978-0-9911465-4-3     $18.00  /  $21.00 (Canada)     6 x 9       

88 pp      
PUB DATE: Spring 2014       News Poetry Review


Robert Michael Pyle’s voice is an essential element in the culture of our literary and scientific community. His deep knowledge of the ecology of the earth and the life patterns of a wide variety of living forms, his careful attention to detail, his passion and energy and commitment to humanity that appear in his past work are present in abundance throughout the poetry in Evolution of the Genus Iris. We are fortunate readers indeed to have this new book and its poems abroad in the world.

—Pattiann Rogers


How wonderful to have one of our best lepidopterists and nature writers turn assuredly to poetry. Robert Michael Pyle has a scientist’s precise eye, the earthy experience of a field biologist, the vast knowledge and lexicon of a scholar, and the sensibility and wisdom of a very fine poet. We feel an immediate intimacy with the plants and animals he recreates. Pyle loves the living world—as savage as it is—and in poem after wonderful poem he offers the natural promise of beauty and renewal. I felt enlightened and healed by this book.

—Henry Hughes

About the Author

Robert Michael Pyle

Robert Michael Pyle

Robert Michael Pyle writes essay, poetry, and fiction from an old Swedish farmstead along a tributary of the Lower Columbia River in southwestern Washington. His sixteen books include Wintergreen and The Tangled Bank. A Guggenheim Fellow, he has received the John Burroughs Medal and several other writing awards. Pyle’s poems have appeared in magazines including the North American Review, and in a chapbook, Letting the Flies Out. Evolution of the Genus Iris is his first full-length book of poems.



Click on the link to read a wonderful review of Robert Michael Pyle's Evolution of the Genus IRIS at Chattermarks, a publication from the North Cascades Institute:Robert Michael Pyle's Evolution of the Genus IRIS


John E. Riutta has written a new review of Evolution of the Genus IRIS in the June 30, 2014 issue of The Well Read Naturalist. Check it out here: Bob Pyle's Beautiful Iris


Coast Chronicles: Spending a languorous afternoon with Bob Pyle

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
by Cate Gable

“We are fortunate readers indeed to have Bob’s new book—Evolution of the Genus Iris—and his poems abroad in the world.”

— Pattiann Rogers

While some of us have had our Warhol-predicted 15 minutes of fame caught in the speed trap of—was it Raymond or South Bend?—others have managed decades of notoriety for more worthy ventures: Robert Michael Pyle among them.

Lepidopterist, naturalist, essayist, poet, founder of the Xerces Society ( and authentically good-hearted guy, Bob welcomed me onto his Grays River front porch on a glorious summer day a couple weeks ago. (In response to my email about directions, he wrote, “I’ve no idea about GPS . . . does that stand for Great Plover Society? Turn right at the giant oak.”)

As we looked across his green valley, where, as Bob said, “the vole is central to the food chain,” our talk flitted like a butterfly from topic to topic. Bob punctuated his stories about a slew of writers—from Gary Snyder to Jack Kerouac—by his running into the yard from time to time to identify some winged wonder.

The Voice of a Poet

Though tucked away above Grays River Covered Bridge, nearly the end of the world, Bob manages to be at the center of the contemporary writing maelstrom. He has 17 books to his credit; his newest, Evolution of the Genus Iris (Lost Horse Press, Sandpoint, Idaho, 2014), is a first for him: poetry. In this marvelous collection, he combines his knowledge of science and keen observational powers with linguistic mastery. His poetic voice is at once confident, tender, humorous and deeply passionate about the world he loves.

Bob has recently lost his beloved wife, Thea, and one cannot read this collection without feeling her presence. One of Bob’s favorite poems, and mine, is “Dancing Pants,” about their laundry frolicking together on the clothesline in the wind.

“Garden Catalogue” opens the volume. In it, Bob sees Thea from the kitchen window—“I like watching you bend / like that, making the soil over,/ your hands black with it, my hands/warm in dishwater.” In “Sheets on the Line” we read, “Twenty thousand wrinkles show / where our bodies have pressed / these sheets, and will press them afresh, / on a cold night, when the rain returns.” These lines glow with the richness of an exceptional domesticity and then the afterglow of loss.

Location, Location, Location

Bob is a decidedly Pacific Northwest poet. Who else would know what a Pulaski is? (A firefighter’s tool with “one end axe, one adze.”) Or would write about the “wedge of geese flying over Megler Bridge.” Then there’s his whimsical sense of humor in poems like “The Banana Slug on the Totem Pole,” which ends “But maybe it’s the only one / ever carved on cedar log, / no slime trail left behind to show / how it got way up there.”

Yet Bob has also traveled the world on the hunt for natural wonders. So we also find “The Goats of Tajikistan” who “pick their way / over turf they’ve trodden, grazed, and shat / into recycled fiber forever.” Or “In China,” “along the path to the village / Foping to Sanguanmiao / swatches of white clematis bloom / like so many saucers in the wood.” Or following the swallowtail migration, “Chin-deep in Florida blackwater river, / alligators at bay as far as you know.”


His poetry has taken him on an internal journey as well. Bob’s been in the company of great poets and avers that their sensibilities rubbed off on him.

“I’ve been writing for a long time, but it was really traveling with the poets of Orion’s Forgotten Language Tour that got me started with poetry,” he says. “The idea was ‘I want to tell the story of the trees, but I’ll need to know a forgotten language.’ Pattiann Rogers, Alison Deming—I listened to them a lot and I read and read. I began to realize, and they told me, that my prose was poetic. I found that I had an ear for cadence.”

“Initially, I had no confidence and no credentials,” he continues. “My education is scientific and natural history.” He has a Ph.D. from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “I never took a single class in poetry, so I wrote bad poetry for some time. But I love poems, their conciseness and cleanness and how precise and whimsical they can be. And yet they’re extraordinarily demanding.” “It’s about finding the pivot point,” he says. “What I seek in a poem is the melody. So I published poetry and I got a couple good credits. Then I started to get some readers. It was really about five years ago when I decided I was going to put a manuscript together. Now poetry has become an important part of my life.”

“Well, I guess I’m a poet,” he admits.

Paradise Lost?

One cannot be a writer describing the natural world without stepping into grief. I’ve discovered that most of my friends grew up with rivers, built rock dams, fashioned forts, or wandered off into the woods to lean against a tree with a book. But as the world we love takes hits from all sides, it pains us. We ask, who in this generation of techno-youngsters will love Mother Nature as we do? Who will care for her properly?

This thread of sadness appears in Bob’s poetry. “The Grief of Thrushes” is about a baby bird fallen from its nest—a stand-in for those sorrows we witness in nature. “All Fall Down” records first Chamberlain barn burning to the ground then the Altoona Cannery taken by flood, again reminding us of a time passing before our eyes.

“One more old one down, / one more forest to the sea, in a land / where sea is cheap / and all the rest is long gone.”

Nostalgia is apparent even in titles: “A Moon I Didn’t See,” “Two More Birds That Didn’t Make It,” “The Starling in the Stove.” But this inevitable heartache is balanced by Bob’s light touch in the “Horseshoe Crabs” or “If Humans Had Spermatophores,” and “Haiku for a Beetle with Spiderwebs on Its Antennae.”

Another poem that brought a smile to my face I quote in its entirety:

“The Girl with the Cockleburs in Her Hair”

We were talking about how children don’t
get out any more. She showed me
her daughter on her cell phone:
big pout, and four big burs
caught up in her hair.
That girl, I said, is
going to be

We can only hope for more poetry from Bob and more potential earth-caretakers like the girl with cockleburs in her hair.


The Girl with the Cockleburs in Her Hair

We were talking about how children don’t
get out any more. She showed me
her daughter on her cell phone:
big pout, and four big burs
caught up in her hair.
That girl, I said, is
going to be