The Cat Star and Other Poems. Terry A. Garey. (2022) ed. by Ruth Berman, Crumbfairy Press, 2809 Drew Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55416. 48 pp. stapled softcover, $6.00.
Review by Sandra J. Lindow
The Cat Star and Other Poems consists of forty-two poems, most previously published in genre magazines such as Asimov’s, Star*line, MSP, and Dreams and Nightmares. The book is bookended with Garey’s Rhysling Award winners, “The Cat Star,” 2012, and “Spotting UFO’s While Canning Tomatoes,” 1996. A pioneering editor of speculative poetry, Terry A. Garey served as the first poetry editor of Tales of the Unanticipated (1986 to 1991), and was active in WisCon from its 1977 inception, hosting well-attended poetry workshops in the 80s and 90s. Her anthologies, Time Gum, 1988, and Time Frames, 1991, are important introductions to the genre. Her particular oeuvre is an intergalactic variation on domestic fabulation where she used her own domestic experience as a launch pad for her poems and then showcased them as a founding member of the highly regarded poetry performance group Lady Poetesses from Hell.
The book’s cover picture by British artist Arthur Edward Henderson (Philadelphia Public Ledger,1915) depicts a winged cat star smugly lapping the Milky Way while gnomish astronomers look on. Likewise, Garey’s initial “Cat Star” poem takes a cosmic turn although it begins with the death of a beloved pet: “I have hidden your body/ in among ground-down shale/ powdered clam shell and centuries of leaf mold,” but then natural science whimsically turns into metaphysics:
you are singing the disintegrating cat song
a whisker song
a clawed paw song
a silent cat song that spreads to the stars
hums through the universe
then falls back gently
Throughout, Garey makes masterful use of sound patterns, internal rhyme, and natural story-telling rhythms, allowing her audience easy access to a complex but ultimately transcendent science: “the old carbon and iron and calcium compounds / what is to be a component of earth / dancing in the drifted leaves.” Adept use of domestic and physical science is also seen in this micro poem:
in each hot canning jar
a newly formed universe
is slowly cooling
Thus, Garey’s poetry adeptly moves across speculative genres. “Start Up Company,” 2003, offers office workers fanciful revenge for corporate stupidities when “Mother Nature loses it:”
Gibbons brachiate in the supply room,
streaming toilet paper and printer ribbons,
A tapir has taken over Admin and makes love
to the water cooler
Flamingoes nest in the data entry pool
their long legs folded around hanging files
beaks dipping for algae in the humidifiers
“Ancient Singer” visits Grandmother’s ghost “in the shrouded land” where “her ghost feet pump the treadle” and she murmurs “of stars.”
“Rebel Horticulture” reveals the world of urban gardening as ecological kin in citizenship with the land:
“weeds romp rampant/ as urban guerillas / fertile ground gives them the same nourishment/ as anything else” while “the compost smokes sullenly / and the bees practice their pollen pimping.”
Throughout this collection, Garey plays with SF and fantasy tropes from the golden years, giving them some practical reconsideration. In “Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes,” the narrator reflects on genre pulp magazine covers and concludes, “Tentacle sentient creatures who need women to:/ Can tomatoes? / To heck with them. Let them can their own tomatoes.”
Overall, this collection reveals a humorous, humane voice that should be considered part of the evolving speculative poetry canon. Garey helped make us who we are today. Highly recommended.
In a 2012 interview with Bryan Thao Worra in the Twin Cities, Daily Planet, Garey remarks that she is always, “listening as poetry turns, squirms/ through fact, image and story” She concludes, “truth comes from such simple words” (9/25/12).
Sandra Lindow has served as Vice President and Acting President of SFPA. Her poetry has been seen in various markets including Asimov’s, Star*Line, Dreams and Nightmares, Dwarf Stars, and the Rhysling Anthologies. Her spec related editing includes Dwarf Stars, Eye to the Telescope, and most recently the Rhysling winners anthology, Alchemy of Stars II. She lives on a hilltop in Menomonie, Wisconsin where she waits out the pandemic and attempts various strategies to keep varmints from eating her vegetables and perennials.
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