Primal Testament is an epic poem about DNA, the inventor of life and death, and about the extinct and living species that are its children. They include the black bear and the sparrow, the first chordates Haikouella and Pikaia Gracilens, E-Coli, the flatworm, geologist Charles Lyell, chemist Rosalind Franklin, and the three hominins who 3.7 million years ago walked at Laetoli, Tanzania. Their story of lost paradise is told by two voices, a muse of great authority, and an early 21st-century man humbled by its tale and language.
Primal Testament is learned, playful, humorous and contemplative, as well as scientifically and poetically rich in ways that will astound the reader. The focus is not only on the evolution of life but also on stories of scientists who contributed to this knowledge, as well as geological and climactic events (the impact of tsunamis, plate-shifting, the bacteria in our and all guts). It is also – as all great poems must be – about sex and about God.
– Chantel Lavoie, Author and Associate Professor, Royal Military College of Canada
Magisterial and monumental, Primal Testament, Ian Lancashire’s debut volume of poetry, aims at nothing less than a history of the earth compressed into the layers of ten poems. The volume twists like DNA itself, a double helix of feeling and thought in multiple voices buoyed by verse structures. Rosalind Franklin, the discoverer of DNA, narrates her story; a boy grows up in Manitoba; Mary Leakey discovers fossilized footprints; a flatworm considers its karma; and eons of geological time condense to a still point in Lancashire’s splendid, complex, but lucid work. Though he gestures broad and wide, each poem ends in a lyrical moment that seems to buttress all of time. One of Canada’s premier literary scholars, Lancashire now creates a work of personal depth, showing us that poet lived in the critic all along.
– Molly Peacock, Editor, The Best Canadian Poetry in English