Amy Gerstler’s Dearest Creature


Danielle Hunt



Where, in our modern lives, can we find our true selves:  the selves that howl the messages of our hearts, scribble our sentences in the tone we mean, and run through the grasses of unordinary of which we are constantly warned against?  Amy Gerstler's newest book, Dearest Creature, moves the imagination to unlock the ordinary expectations of love, nature and self-discovery, and as a result, inspires to undress the formulaic lens we often keep handy when viewing these subjects.  The thirty-three poems are dressed in rhyming chapters, "Refugee, Creaturely, Maidenly, and Elegy" that sit amongst the wilderness, which lives in her poetry.


Her first poem, "For My Niece Sidney, Age Six" reaches beyond age one hundred, and is similar to rummaging through an old desk of encyclopedias and "cockeyed letter[s]" cluttered with directions on relocating your inner child.  She warns that "Encyclopedias contain no helpful entries/on conducting life's business."  But offers instead "the undomesticated smell/of open rebellion" in the form of praising her niece's behaviors, which are characterized as being "lost/in a maze of sensations" and "socially/clueless, to love books as living things" as simple directions on how to live. Gerstler, maybe Buddhistic in nature, unveils the important metaphors that seem to hide in all creatures.  She lends advice from a caterpillar whose behavior precautions: "Don’t get sentimental/about your discarded skins."  She even finds the lovely necessity in dead moths, which are "majestic/toasted flowers,/nature's punctuation,"  and calls herself deeply indebt to the birds of her yard, offering "handfuls of millet, peanuts, sunflower," which "hardly seem a fitting or rich enough reward." With this advice, and the images in her poetry, Gerstler uncloaks the hidden messages, the directions for living that we so often disregard as trifles.


Gerstler's tone of wild embarkment gains volume throughout her book.  Her message breathes in the format of small suggestions that emulate this code for living, such as:  "I've never had/a skinny-dipping regret," and calling love "gulping bathwater from cupped hands."  Perhaps, this undomesticated behavior can be accredited to the character of her mother, who she recalls, is "never above fainting to get her way."  In a significant way, Gerstler leads her reader to believe in the country of wilderness she has created.  The country's anthem sings in praise of the strange and the awkward, and is captured in moments that seem to speak directly to the reader, saying, "Beauty only divides the world—/ugliness is far more fascinating."  Gerstler lends a design where wild souls will fit comfortably. 


Amy Gerstler's book bleeds the essence of the uncivilized spirit, and stirs up a taste of discontent for the well-mannered.  Her poetry lives in the shape of Walt Whitman's "Pioneer," as she asks, "who stuffed me into this old-lady suit and how/do I burst out now—unzip and step free?"  And we should step free of the straight-jackets we have become so accustomed to reside in.  We should emulate the wild country Gerstler offers and break free of the usual, the stale and the monotone; the dull places of the world.  Instead, we should seek out the strange and the wild; the metaphors that live in cracks we would never think to explore.  Why not listen to the voices that sing in our hearts; why not give into curiosity; why not unbreathe our wild nature and step foot into Gerstler's country?