Book review: Author mixes poetry, environmental history in ‘Plastic: An Autobiography’ | Arts

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Plastic


By HILARY FLOWER FOR FREE LANCE – STAR

I thought I knew what I was signing up for when I opened Allison Cobb’s “Plastic: An Autobiography”. “Plastic” emblazoned on the front amidst multicolored, sun-bleached fragments of plastic accurately promised to reveal the cultural and scientific roots of plastic and to make me aware of the nature of this modern scourge. But her greatest gift was one I didn’t know I needed.

After the first few pages, I returned to the cover to notice the teasing “autobiography” part of the title. Cobb tells stories of its own roots and evolution, blurring its past with the people and industries that brought us plastic, showing, without telling, with the skillful use of vignettes and anecdotes.

His prose embodies the theme that plastic is inside and outside us, inextricably linked to the modern body, soul and world. Not only do we each eat about the equivalent of a plastic credit card each week, but you may have noticed that as we reach out to touch our world, we come in more and more contact with these synthetic polymers. … like this keyboard at your fingertips.

Most books on environmental issues are cerebral and heavy, predictably. The reader is tempted to compartmentalize, as it is difficult to integrate bad news about the health of our planet and our role in it. But besides being a rigorous scientific thinker and intrepid researcher, Cobb is a poet. Verses of poetry – his own and that of others – fill many pages, and his poetic sensibility provides a dreamy and enlightening structure to his ambitious endeavor. The result is almost a meditation, creating a fertile ground for the reader to join her in making an intimate connection with plastics and in addressing the implications of its prevalence for our own families and the world around us.



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