Seven Miles Deep

By Pamela Garvey


Five Oaks Press
January 2017

Reviewed by Layla Azmi Goushey


Pamela Garvey's excellent full-length poetry volume, Seven Miles Deep, offers intense, reflective observations on modern life. The poems loosely follow the stages of a woman's life. They inspire a range of emotions as we encounter moments of violence, resentment, fear, addiction, romantic love, love for a child, and love of the self.

The poems in Seven Miles Deep remind me of Baudelaire's descriptions of art and modernity: that the artist who represents modernity in her work captures fleeting moments of the eternal in everyday events. Baudelaire writes, "By 'modernity' I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable." One finds these ephemeral moments throughout Garvey's work.

Early in the collection, we encounter the violence of everyday life. A broken baby bird is discovered by the speaker, a child. The speaker's mother ends the baby bird's life. It is the speaker's response that causes us to reflect. Did she carry her mother's attitudes with her? Do we do the same in our own lives?

through blinds, I saw her lift the spade.
She said nothing after. If only
I'd vowed to own no such tools.

When considering romantic love and loss, the speaker notes:

Behind me now:
Those days when he brought lilies,
dresser crowded with bouquets.
Petals in the mirror,
the smell of facelessness.

When I fell for him
I felt hollow stemmed,

I did not know
it was an amputation.

Speaking of a fading relationship, one that fades as a wasp nest in the window grows larger, the speaker asks:

Why flinch when I tap your shoulder?
Why tremble so? Why run? Why defend
with poison? Why loosen
your tie as if you can't breathe?

Garvey offers a range of metaphors to inspire our reflections on modern life: God's eyes like black holes sucking in pieces of reality; blind fish who swim in the ocean's depths and flail at the light; the compound eyes of a wasp. Readers will feel drawn into the depths with the poet, both flailing like blind fish at the immense wave of knowledge we are confronted with in modernity and yet, like the wasp, unable to close our compound eyes, as Garvey tells us in her poem, "Wasp Eyes":

The compound eye—one
hundred eyes without a lid
to shut out the light.

One of Garvey's strongest metaphors in the collection is the life of the wasp, with a wasp nest growing larger in the home of a fracturing relationship, and the queen of the nest using and discarding the drones. The wasp's compound eyes pull us through complex personal experiences to consider the intensity of being unable to shut out the pain of the world while observing so many who swim blindly through their lives, and ours.

My favorite poem in the collection, "Among Fish Without Eyes," shows us how we must live within this spectrum of extremes of sight and blindness, light and darkness, the universal and the individual. We must find our own inner strength. The subject is the speaker's son:

My mouth puckers, belongs to another
saying my son's name
in a voice that frightens him.
Shuddering, he pokes a fish where eyes would
be, socket with thin fold of scales
which jerk. Let it go, I say. When he does,
it folds, rises, lingers on the waves
of my head. Look, Mommy,
you've got a white horn.

In Biblical allegory, the white horn is a symbol of inner power. "Among Fish Without Eyes" is in the last section of the book, where the speaker is beginning to find stability and make sense of her world. Having experienced deep fascination with the previous poems, I found the symbolism of the white horn to be inspiring. I sensed the stirring of rebirth for the speaker and for me as a reader. 

Garvey is the author of two previous chapbooks and has been published widely in literary journals. Her poetry is mostly free verse, and in this volume you will also find forms such as poetic couplets. There also is one lovely, intense concrete poem, "Parable of the Blind," that is written in free verse about the speaker's son being lost in a museum. Garvey uses free verse to selectively place words to inspire our emotional engagement with the poem. However, while visually symmetrical, the poem contains lines that are not symmetrical; the lines' small variations in syllable count run counter to the seemingly well-ordered world implied by the visual structure of the poem:

In the museum I come upon the blind
       beggars. Riveted by doughy, diseased eyes
                  Breughel studied on 16th century streets,
                      I'm close enough to touch the Plague. So
                             close I might set off an alarm as harsh as
                                      my soon-to-be-ex-husband's "What?" as he

enters the room, discovers our five-year-old—
       boy who clings, who rubs my wrist until skin
               chafes—is not by my side. Locked in the loose
                        flesh of the beggars' sunken cheeks, I shake
                            my head no before turning away from this
                                      painting. My husband's hands seem giant

As I read Seven Miles Deep, the poems inspired me to consider my place in our modern world and my place along the spectrum of visibility: of sight and insight. Each reader may find her or himself in their own place on that spectrum; however, the experience of reading Seven Miles Deep should not be missed.