cover image An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos

An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos

Tony Johnston. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-374-35648-4

In this book of 34 poems, Johnston (The Magic Maguey) records her observations during a trip to the Gal pagos, which in a note she characterizes as a place ""wild and vast and stark, looking out over the endless and shining skin of the sea."" However striking some individual poems may be, the collection as a whole does not re-create the poet's awe. Sometimes Johnston's images are rich and evocative, as in the closing ""Gal pagos"": ""Hold this place/ gently/ like an old shell./ Hold it/ to your ear./ Hear the song that sings/ inside--/ splash of fish/ flutter of finch/ rustle of salt/ wind/ lava hissing/ in wet sand/ and the echo of loneliness/ wild and wide."" She sees with the eyes of an environmentalist who treasures each creature: a beetle is ""one perfect polished pebble/ feeling its way along the rim/ of morning."" Clouds ""drift/ on their dark still wings./ Silver beaks/ of rain/ come softly pecking/ at the cliff."" But the same phrases and subjects repeat--things old, dark, cold, silver and soaring make regular appearances--and there is little rhythm in the sequencing of the poems and little variety. Pohrt's (Coyote Goes Walking) spare, straightforward sepia illustrations seem like studies taken from a sailor's sketchbook, quick impressions of island life. His loose drawings offer an understated contrast to the lofty language about ""the core of the mystery and poetry of Nature."" Ages 7-up. (Oct.)