For Day 4 of #thesealeychallenge I read Significant Other by Isabel Galleymore. I am not into nature poems. Descriptions of animals and landscapes and trees and birds don’t do it for me. I get bored of it so fast – like, how many ways are there to describe waves or whatever?
On its surface, this collection has a lot of natural elements, specifically about oceany animals and small creatures that are easily overlooked. This collection has three separate poems about limpets (I didn’t even know what a limpet was). I was ready to call it a loss, and when I originally read it, I think I was just giving it a skim assuming I wouldn’t like it. I was wrong. This collection is weird and whimsical, and I am so happy that I went back and gave it a genuine read.
Gallymore really shines when she brings in elements of magic realism and leans into nonsense weirdness. I don’t need poems to make sense. I actually tend to enjoy them more when they use words in a surprising way that kicks my imagination into gear. True Animal is a great example of this weirdness where Gallymore tells us, “the horse began to mouse, the hare grew chicken-hearted, and the chicken hared away.” That makes no sense to me, but I love its playfulness. I would highly recommend Spirit Human and The Scrotum Frog if you also like weird-ass poems. And there are so many others. If I started to list out all of the strange images Gallymore paints then I would be writing this for days.
Many of the poems are about humankind’s relationship to the natural world. Some of them read as gentle calls to action, asking us to remember that we are also part of the ecosystem along with the bees and wasps and mollusks. These poems, like ‘Day’ and ‘At First’, are not preachy but use Gallymore’s lean toward the surreal to give us images that warn us about the possibilities of our choices. In ‘No Inclination’ Gallymore tells of a near-future where gales do not know how to howl and neighbors inspect the sun to find it doesn’t want to smile. Nonsense. But nonsense with layers, and I think it is very effective and clever.
I also found the poems that explored interpersonal relationships through metaphors of the natural world very intriguing. For example in ‘The Ash,’ the turning of wood is compared to the turning over of words. In ‘Kind’ she relates her love for someone to the reluctance of a captive owl to mate with other owls. There were also a few poems, ‘Into the Woods’ or ‘Say Heart’, that are not directly about nature, and while I enjoyed those poems, they sort of felt like a departure from the theme. I guess in these examples there are loose connections to the natural world with mention of trees and forests, but they still seem to be standing out from the overall tone of the collection.
So, who would enjoy this? Folks that find this kind of abstraction alienating and opaque might not enjoy this collection. If you were coming to this book to read some straightforward nature poems with pretty words describing trees and oceans, I think this veers far enough from more traditional nature poetry that it won’t meet expectations. If you are a lover of poetry that plays with images and sounds then this is for you. Reading it I was remembering Alice in Wonderland and how Lewis Carrol deals in nonsense. If you enjoy magical realism (which is my favorite genre) then I think you will enjoy this too.
Overall the lesson I learned is that putting aside my likes and dislikes can open me up to some amazing poetry. I’m so glad that I read this for a second time, and I can see myself returning to this collection again in the future
Favorites and Best Bits:
Choosing (pg. 8)
Slipper Limpet (pg. 9)
The Ash (pg.10)
Into the Woods (pg. 12)
Seahorse (pg. 17)
At First (pg. 20)
No Inclination (pg. 21)
Spirit Human (pg. 24)
Nuptials (pg. 38)
Shadow Tale (pg. 43)
I’m Doing You an Injustice (pg. 44)
Examples Include Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (pg.49)
Are We There Yet? (pg. 50)