by Holly Lyn Walrath
Finishing LIne Press, 2018
This line from the poem “Behind the Glass” sums up Holly Lyn Walrath‘s poetry collection Glimmerglass Girl. The 24 poems in the book show the reader a world much like our own draped in the fantastical. It seems to exist within the pages of our favorite fairy tales, yet it is grounded in the contemporary dealing with technology, rape culture, and self-esteem. The poem “Behind the Glass” takes you to a world much like Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland or the Ever After of princesses like Cinderella, however, it hints at a promise unfulfilled, of a result different than happily ever after. Walrath writes, “You were promised / I would be dainty / with a size three foot / (to fit the glass slipper), / a bell dangling in my skirts, an apron bow like a present, / and flowers on my knees / (red, blushing violently). // I was promised you would be tall, / spritely, piney-handed (handy) / golden-curled (sweat-soaked tendriled) / wearing a coat with three buttons / ruffled feathers beneath, a popinjay— / with a sugar-dusted tongue.
The language in Glimmerglass Girl is seductive, soft to the touch, yet stabbing. You feel like a knife is twisting in your gut as your read through each poem. Walrath uses the collection to explore her experience as a woman, shedding light on the insecurity, desire, and self-love she has faced. The collection looks at the business of disappearing, of splintering one’s female self, while also showing a woman’s desire to be noticed, to be seen as beautiful. In the poem “In Rejoice of Kindred Grief,” she writes, “for anyone to truly / see her drunken starlight as female beauty / for a body that’s not a four-letter word / for one true kiss.”
Glimmerglass Girl plays with reflection--both the narrator’s view of herself and the male gaze. In the first poem of the collection entitled “Espejitos” (mirrors), Walrath says, “but before you imprint yourself / on the thin of her wings / remember the question / unasked / yes or no? // burn it into your retinas / tattoo it on your cheeks / tuck it into your manly smile / learn how to ask / so that she can say no / you may be unfamiliar with this answer / no.” Reading these lines, I thought about how many men take from women without asking, without gratitude, and with expectation. I thought of Angela Carter’s re-imagining “The Bloody Chamber,” and how reflection, mirrors, and the male gaze play into her female protagonist’s story. How they play into the female experience.
The second half of the collection takes a triumphant, empowering tone. Walrath explains in “The Art of Loneliness” how learning to be alone can be rewarding and liberating. She writes, “This may mean / learning to live alone without / anyone to cook for, or clean up after, / or hold close at night / in darkness. You may learn / to sleep through the night, / warmed by the thought of / your own existence.”
Glimmerglass Girl fosters introspection and self-exploration. It forced me to think about my own womanhood and experience as a female. It made me think about society and social norms and expectations placed on women. It made me think of how painful it can be to be a woman, yet also how magical it is. This is the type of book you will find something with each new read.You may just find a little glimmerglass girl inside of you. My favorite poems in the collection are: “Espejitos,” “Behind the Glass,” and “I am Going to Find the Unicorns.”