The Strength & Delicacy of Femininity: On Holly Lyn Walrath’s ‘Glimmerglass Girl’

Walrath’s poetry collection shows how, to women at rock-bottom, strength seems mythical — but it’s still there.


Holly Lyn Walrath
Poetry | 60 Pages | Reviewed: ARC PDF
First Edition | $14.99
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Image: Finishing Line Press.
“My Glimmerglass Girl is merely a shadow of myself, so I ask only that you hold her gently, for she may slip away before you have come to fully know her”

“Espejitos,” the opening poem from Glimmerglass Girl, takes its name from the Greta oto butterfly — a transparent-winged species that can carry up to 40 times its own weight. This unsuspecting strength is mirrored when we first meet the Glimmerglass Girl, “[fluttering] amidst the stars” made “to disappear.” Rather than disappearing throughout the rest of this chapbook, however, she flourishes. Wrapped in her layers of mystery, poem by poem we gradually come the see her more clearly.

Later, in poems such as “In Rejoice of Kindred Grief,” we get an even clearer portrait of her: clad in a “lacy torn dress” with “mouse-brown roots of dyed blue hair” and a “mood ring cobalt with sadness.” There’s a hint of Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to her, as she flits around aching “for anyone / to truly see her drunken starlight as female beauty.” We can see her as everyone’s favorite party girl, a modern romantic, waiting by the roadside for Prince Charming. But by the next poem, we see this short-lived dream dismantled: “We live in a world / of unfulfilled fairytales.”

“Two Young Wives” preaches female friendships over romantic relations, depicting two lifelong friends looking back to when they “were young, / before thirty rose up / and devoured us.” There’s a sense of reluctantly looking forward, peeking through your fingers at a world that seems to “end in May.” This motif of retrospection carries over into “Elegy for a Body,” where our Glimmerglass Girl is clinging onto “the memory of feeling thin / like a butterfly’s wing” that she finds in “the boy’s chest / of yesterday.” I found this poem to be the most moving, as it encapsulates the desperation of trying to find yourself in someone else, and the tragedy of such a task.

In “Two Hundred Fifty-Seven,” the Glimmerglass Girl is counting anything quantifiable: “142 sunflower seeds,” “257 words.” Struggling to edit and improve her writing, she flits back and forth between different narratives before concluding that “today / I could not solve the world’s / problems so instead of beginning anew / I made honey lemon herbal tea.” Here we can picture her (and maybe even Walrath) on the other side of the page, throwing discarded words into a waste paper bin and giving up — something any author can empathize with.

Many of the following poems retain a similar mood, blasting through winding paths of nostalgia and loneliness — but not always out of sadness. By “The Art of Loneliness,” there’s a hopeful attempt to make peace with being alone, allowing loneliness to “blossom out” as if it where a plant on the windowsill. What we learn as her story continues is how, to those at rock-bottom, strength seems mythical. “I Am Going to Find the Unicorns” and “I Swallowed the Moon” read as retreats into fantasy, either as manic episodes or as fantastical defense mechanisms — the decision on which is ultimately left up to us.

The Glimmerglass Girl works best when she turns the lens to the world around her. Walrath offers us self-deprecating jokes in “I Think My Taste Is Questionable,” and as our Glimmerglass Girl starts to question what her forties will look like, hypothesizing based on the habits of her family, there’s a playfulness in how she pokes fun at her father’s love of Grape Nuts, and her Mother’s ritual of ‘A Diet Coke at Brunch,” reminding us how we navigate adulthood by clinging to things like “kimchi and caviar” as ways to distill our personalities. “Housewife,” which is perhaps my favorite poem from the collection, features flashes of a Sylvia Plath persona. By constructing an immaculate housewife archetype “peeling the crisp brown suits / off a pair of onions” and “broken over boiling vinegar,” we see a side of the Glimmerglass Girl that is desperate to be a homemaker, regardless of the patriarchal implications.

The notion of the “instapoet” is one that looms over the work of any contemporary female poet, and parodies of poems by writers such as Rupi Kaur often have a punchline that frames poetry as nonsense that teenaged girls scrawl in diaries. But Walrath’s collection suggests an intelligence that retaliates through showing the beauty, complexity, and tragedy of modern womanhood — a butterfly that can haul 40 times its own weight seems an apt metaphor for the unifying strength and delicacy of femininity we still struggle with. As visceral and violent as certain moments are, Walrath’s poetic voice is never dwindling. Glimmerglass Girl flitters seamlessly between the abstract and the digital age, undeniably placed in 2018 while feeling timeless. She gives into the “act of self-interrogation” not in her reflection but in her selfies, asking “is this what I look like to him.” Of course, anyone could tell you that no selfie is an accurate portrait, but then, does that stop any of us from trying?

LAURA MCKENZIE is a London-based prose writer, sometimes-poet, and current student of the MA writing program at Royal Holloway, University of London.