Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line


At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions


Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists


‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam


‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6

Reading at Grolier Poetry: Isabel Galleymore and Gabrielle Calvocoressi Create a Cistern of Tenderness

Grolier Poetry Galleymore and Calvorcoressi.
Grolier Poetry Galleymore and Calvorcoressi. By Courtesy of Grolier Poetry
By Emma Y. Miao, Contributing Writer

A cistern is a kind of collection system, typically located on the roof to collect rainwater. But to Gabrielle Calvocoressi, a cistern is a vessel through which a poem collects and holds itself.

It was 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15. In place of the typical shelves that crowd the room, Cambridge residents of all ages packed into the Grolier Poetry Book Shop as Isabel Galleymore and Gabrielle Calvocoressi — two Radcliffe Fellows working on full-length poetry collections — stood behind the microphone. The space resembled a kind of cistern, in which Galleymore and Calvocoressi explored themes of animalism, absence, grief, wonder, and tenderness.

Hailing all the way from Birmingham, England, Galleymore opened the night by sharing that this was her first reading in the United States. A poet interested in ecopoetics and the environmental humanities, she read from her poetry collection “Significant Other,” as well as some of her newer works.

Galleymore mentioned how a few years ago when she was writing the book, she met a marine biologist who opposed the idea of “being at one with nature.” He said that every time we have an opportunity to become one with nature, “perhaps we risk losing our responsibility to it.” Galleymore’s poetics, then, are an excavation into “how close / to come to nature without being eaten,” (a line from her poem, “Once”). Galleymore poses the question of how one can engage closely with the natural world without imposing our extractionist perspectives upon it.

“I’ve been trying to write a kind of romantic climate change poem,” Galleymore shares, prompting a smattering of chuckles among the Grolier crowd.

“It’s harder than I thought,” she explained — the merging of “rom-com tropes” with the “extremes of what we’re experiencing.”

Between poems, Galleymore said that she was “working on a project that’s thinking about the role cuteness plays in our relationships with the non-human world, how it suggests ways of commodifying nature but also caring for nature.” In particular, she described how even a stuffed, “monkey-esque” toy animal the speaker of her poem “Squeezamal™” sees on a car dashboard seemed commodified.

“It was so indiscriminate with its loving,” Galleymore writes. “I couldn’t help feeling angry, disappointed in myself.”

Galleymore proffers that one remedy to the commodification of nature is leaning into wonder and optimism. “People say I say ‘wow’ too much,” explained Galleymore, before sharing a closing poem that included a “wow” in each line, encapsulating her immense ardor and wonder for natural phenomena: the sea, the “shadows of each petal,” the sheer abundance of the world around us.

Galleymore then introduced Calvocoressi to the crowd. Calvocoressi’s poetry, said Galleymore, contains magic, “magic that somehow leads us beyond speculative and into the real.”

Galleymore shared that she first came across “She Ties my Bow Tie,” a love poem from Calvocoressi’s third poetry collection, “Rocket Fantastic,” and was “spellbound.” Galleymore read the opening “She Ties my Bow Tie”: “What you thought was the sound of the deer drinking / at the base of the ravine was not their soft tongues / entering the water but my Love tying my bow tie.”

Calvocoressi’s language and poetics indeed create an effervescent magic that is at once deeply human yet wholly romantic. Committed to honesty, Calvocoressi vulnerably presents her experiences, speaking tenderly on themes of gender, sexuality, grief, and anxiety.

Sharing from her poem, “The Sun Got All Over Everything,” Calvocoressi read “I had made a plan to cry all day and into the evening."

“I mark it in my book. I wrote, ‘grieve,’ Because we’re all so busy aren’t we? I needed to make an appointment with my anguish.”

Calvocoressi blends topics of human grief and interiority with the natural world as previously explored by Galleymore: “the sun was like a yolk cracked over it … it poured across the girls / I let it find the tightness in my back / somewhere, my mother was dying and someone was skinning a giraffe. / and I let it go. I just let it go.”

She explored how the body is a cistern too, carrying grief, trauma, and memory. She read from “My Perimenopausal Body Cistern Disappointing How Surprising,” which includes the lines, “this body I fought for. Timid / skin sack that grew into a kind of magnificence I’d / not expected. I tie my bow tie around my neck that’s not / quite the neck I want.” The bow tie, in this poem, negotiates femininity, the body, and its imperfections. Gentle and consistent, the accessory provides grounding to the changing, aging experience.

In this way, Calvocoressi sees the body as a cistern for not just grief, but love. Calvocoressi celebrates and encapsulates this love in her poem “She Ties my Bow Tie,” which she revealed was written about her partner Angeline: “This is the breeze my Love makes when she ties me up / and sends me out into the world.”

Love, to Calvocoressi, is embracing the roughness of the body. Her poetics conclude that to love is to decorate another deeply human body with something beautiful.

The reading ended with abundant applause. What a gift, indeed, to be sent out into the world like a parcel wrapped up in Calvocoressi’s “bow tie” after this reading, stepping out from the stillness of the Grolier Cistern into the movement of Galleymore’s “magical,” natural world — in all its abundance.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.