Emergence: A Review of Veronica Golos’ GIRL

Once, several years ago, on the mesa between Tetilla peak and the Santa Fe River gorge, I saw what I believe to this day was a wolf running. I believed at the time the creature was male. Now I am certain there was a girl inside. This new conclusion stems from having finished reading (and studying) Veronica Golos’ wonder, entitled GIRL from 3:A Taos Press. 

Few poets allow their readers to inhabit persona as completely as does Golos. GIRL is a masterpiece of shifting linguistic space and time. The space of the narrative defies topology. Time becomes rhythm becomes jazz. The music morphs from species to species. The lyric becomes prayer, becomes rant, becomes an evolutionary triptych. Every gender on the planet should go buy this book and read it: to each other, to their lovers, to their daughters, to their sons, to their parents, to their husbands, to their wives, to their priests, even to their shamans. There are truths inside. Inside every wolf is a girl. 

The personae who occupy (and escape) the universe between the covers of GIRL are myriad: secular and sacred, mythological and fabular, enchained by historical and present reality. Each persona is anointed with and longs for transition, not unlike the triumphant butterfly which images the book’s cover. From the rouged-face oracle crone in “Rouged Woman Prophecy”: The world will burn black. / The mountains will roll their snows / down upon your cities. / And the two-legged, thumbed speaker / will feed the earth, and will be gone. / And the world will be silent for an eon. / Then the Wolf / will raise one word, / and that word shall be Girl / and we shall be / inside Him, again, / whole.; to the child narrator from “East River Elegy, New York, Circa 1960” wanton virginal observer: “. . . those heart-heavy boys. / that East River stink. That salt, crust, grit. those diving bodies”; from the urban matriarchal alcoholic survivor, Gloria; to the repeatedly assaulted child, made objectified body, yet imbued with salvation of self-knowledge, rendered tough as stone — each speaker in each poem demands that we occupy and confess the gender-brutal present which each of us, knowing or unknowing, inhabit. 

Golos is an expert of the unsaid and the interruption, of the white space on the page, of the unfilled field, and of lending voice to the voiceless. In her 2011 volume Vocabulary of Silence (Red Hen Press), she elevates damage (damage to epistle, damage {as in forgetting} to names) into a literary trope, namely silence. A similar device is used in the voices of ghosts in her 2015 Rootwork (3:A Taos Press). Here, in GIRL, this interruption or damage trope expresses itself again in a purposely incomplete narrative which compels a reader or listener to inhabit and fill the lacuna. This brilliance is on display in “The Snow Queen (M) Other Writes to her Maker from Behind the Page.” Here, Golos structures the poem such that each verse in each couplet is a mirrored reflection of the other: backwards first, then forwards, driving each of us to look into and inside the looking-glass, compelled to wear our own reflection. We as readers are not always privy to the cause of the damage, yet we are driven to fill it, to inhabit it with our own lyric possibilities, and as such participate in the marvels that are these poems. 

The music of the poems is of dream, of Greek chorus, of ceremony, of fable, of Coltrane, of human and inhuman, of cries from a broken vanishing earth to warning cries of mother to daughter and back again. The phrased measures are of wild-things, flora and fauna. The notations that graph the page are intense inflictions upon a daughter, as in “Poem, Because”:  Her mother inscribes      an open-eyed Braille      with her slap slap slap. 

In Golos’ assured poems, the characters of the personae are established as agents of an evolutionary system in which crones, girls, mothers, daughters, queens, and ballerinas are linked by language.  Consider the symbology of a partial list of the titles: “Rouged Woman Prophecy”; “It is Quiet or Else It Will Hurt You”; “Godtalk in the Park”; “Doublespeak, Carving Ice: Snow White & the Queen”; “The Snow Queen (M) Other Writes to Her Maker from Behind the Page”; “Motherspeak: Daughterspeak”; “Prequel.” The titles refer to language, and language is ultimately the tool with which the GIRL enables her own survival. 

Ultimately, this is a book of sacrifice, of sacrifices past, and sacrifices yet to come. It is an exhortation to our humanity to find another way. The drama of the last two poems (“Only, Perhaps” and “Turtle”) holds the promise of remedy. In “Only, Perhaps,” Golos poses the possibility:  Perhaps there is more. The poem then offers the possibility of humanity transcending even the gods, by naming, by filling the spaces-in-between which the gods inhabit with language. Or the possibility evoked in the poem’s last two stanzas: or, perhaps, as we lean into the summer’s lazy / heat, slow and easy on the hips, / the lemons bloom into coronets, /all of which is enough to turn us / toward another blue, half-opened door / to yet another outside, / to what remains / of what simply is, / like the eel rising out of the mud, / it and what it rises from, one. Then comes the splendid tragedy of the final poem, “Turtle,” in which the poem’s protagonist, a child whose pet turtle has disappeared from its glass bowl, decides not to ask where the tiny pet has gone. The genius of this final image (and in the book entirety) resides in the poet’s refusal to simply ask: where has the innocent world gone? Instead, GIRL dares to show us the human and gender-based catastrophe in which we live and illuminates the way, through language, we may escape this crucible chrysalis. 



Gary Worth Moody is the author of three volumes of poetry: HAZARDS OF GRACE (Red Mountain Press: 2012); OCCOQUAN (Red Mountain Press: 2015); and THE BURNINGS (3:A Taos Press: 2019). He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.