Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
1:03 AM 18th November 2023

Poem Of The Week: The Starfish By Isabel Galleymore

The Starfish

creeps like expired meat –
fizzy-skinned, pentamerously-legged,
her underfur of sucking feet
shivers upon an immobile mussel
whose navy mackintosh is zipped
against the anchor of this fat paw,
this seemingly soft nutcracker who exerts
such pressure until the mussel’s jaw
drops a single millimeter. Into the cleft
she’ll press the shopping bag of her stomach
and turn the mollusc into broth,
haul in the goods and stumble off,
leaving a vacant cubicle,
a prayer come apart.

If ever you were to doubt the educational potential of poetry, then Isabel Galleymore’s astonishing poem reveals, in acrobatic metaphors and linguistic circumlocution, as much about creatures that shuffle ungainly about the sea bed as you could ever learn from an aridly moribund textbook on marine biology.

And beyond the high-res visualisation of a submarine universe that is so strangely tangential to expectation, lies the hinterland of cause and effect, of fundamental Darwinian impulses ripening into evolutionary momentum, as nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’, settles into a murky silence of unanticipated violence. For the smash and grab of the starfish – whose alluring appearance is seriously betrayed by its power – is drawn with brutal accomplishment :

‘this seemingly soft nutcracker who exerts
such pressure until the mussel’s jaw
drops a single millimeter.’

But it is the poet’s immense skill at harnessing metaphor to startling effect that most impresses: her sense of a slow-motion world punctuated by sudden bursts of frenetic activity is animated with a figurative dynamism, as the metre’s motor echoes the shock in changes of rhythmical pace.

And in the end, her narrator invests the hapless mussel - a victim of its own immobility - with a species of anthropomorphic faith, whose failure is illuminated in the confessional of a starkly ‘vacant cubicle’.

‘The Starfish’ is taken from Significant Other, published by Carcanet (2019), and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.

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