I will be the first to admit that I'm the ideal reader for Jeannine Hall Gailey's Field Guide to the End of the World. When I discovered The Walking Dead, I watched all of season 1 in a week-end. I have strong views about the strengths and weaknesses of each of the movies in the1980's nuclear war triumvirate, Testament, The Day After, and Threads. Some of my friends call me Apocalypse Gal, since I have calculated how to survive many a catastrophe.
As expected, I loved Gailey's poetry in her latest collection. She has plenty of poems that imagine life after the apocalypse, most obviously in the series of Post-Apocalypse Postcard poems. But she also makes clear that the apocalypses that will claim most of us are ones of illness and other aspects of modern life, not failures of government policies that lead to meltdowns.
Of course, there are those too. More recent catastrophes, like the Fukushima plant in Japan, make an appearance here. Gailey has a wonderful way of crystalizing these events into poems that give us a unique perspective on our modern life.
Along the way, she distills science lessons into unique poems. We learn about ecotoxicology and junk science and mutagenesis and electromagnetics. But even though I'm only tangentially schooled in these issues, and sometimes not at all, Gailey skillfully gives the reader enough information and explanation to understand the poem, but not so much that the poem sinks under the weight of it.
By now, you might be saying, "Sounds too much like homework. I'm not reading this book." But that would be a shame. Not only are these poems some of the most intelligent poems I've read in years, but they're also funny.
I love the poems which twine together elements of popular culture and apocalypse. One of my favorites was "Martha Stewart's Guide to Apocalypse Living." Gailey perfectly captures the voice of Martha Stewart.
But most important, in envisioning end times, Gailey shows us all that we might appreciate right now, before we lose it. The poems that end the book made me want to start taking pictures of trees or holding the hands of everyone I love.
That's the larger message of the whole book, that we must appreciate what we have now, even as it might be slipping away. She tells us that we will appreciate other aspects of life, whether it's a post-apocalyptic time or the time after an illness or any other disaster that might visit us. But we don't need to wait to be filled with gratitude.
These poems call us to a consciousness that will infuse our life with meaning. These poems remind us that we don't need an apocalypse to come along to prove our worth. These poems can remind us that worth can be found in a simple cup of coffee, if we would only slow down to appreciate that worth.