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A Galaxy in a Jar: Selected Poetry
Laurel Winter
Dark Regions Press, 56 pages

A Galaxy in a Jar
Laurel Winter
Laurel Winter's first fantasy short story, "Mail Order Eyes," appeared in Tales of the Unanticipated, Winter/Spring 1988. Ten years later, she won a World Fantasy Award for "Sky Eyes" (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1999). She has received the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Rhysling Award for her poem of "why goldfish shouldn't use power tools" (Asimov's, December 1997) and for "egg horror poem" (Asimov's, 1998). Her first YA fantasy novel, Growing Wings, originally published by Houghton Mifflin and scheduled to be re-released by the Firebird imprint of Penguin Putnam, was the runner-up for best children's fiction from The Society of Midland Authors and was one of five finalists for the Mythopeic Award for children's fantasy.

Laurel Winter Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Dark Regions Press
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Przybyszewski

A Galaxy in a Jar is a collection of poems by Laurel Winter. Winter has published her work in a variety of magazines, including F&SF, Asimov's, Analog, Aboriginal SF, Tales of the Unanticipated, and Mythic Delirium. Winter also served as poetry editor for Tales of the Unanticipated for a decade. Her poetry has won numerous awards, including both Rhyslings and Asimov's Reader's Polls Awards for best poems. She has one novel, Growing Wings.

If you are going to read A Galaxy in a Jar, and I suggest that everyone does, do not read the poem titled "e-Love." At least, don't randomly flip to that poem first, like I did.

Here's why: "I will pass myself into the body of the message /," the poem's voice announces. "[B]ecause your ISP does not allow attachments / Your firewall did not stop me; / your virus detection software did not flutter / because now I am installed / in your heart / and you cannot delete me."

Wow. That's bad stuff. Really bad. I mention that poem here as the first example of this review because the preceding poem is totally not representative of the rest of this book. Instead, the collection presented in A Galaxy in a Jar is positively impish, much as the being who is featured in "Godlet," a poem that contains the book's title line:

"She has
a galaxy in a jar.
She watches it at night
when she's supposed to be asleep,
marvels at the miniscule worlds,
orbiting glitter-speck stars.
And the beings:
patiently carving roads,
inventing the wheel,
learning to fly.
She smiles,
and sometimes
she shakes the jar."
The idea of a supernatural being of omnipotent power is standard fair. However, Winter turns this being into a child, one that is mischievous and up past her bedtime. This child god has a precious existence in her possession and also has a grasp at the wonder and beauty inherent there. The reader does not know specifically if the Godlet has specific knowledge of the creatures inside the jar, rather than a view of the celestial planes in general. Still, that does not stop this Godlet (with a nice play on words -- 'God' and 'let,' in terms of letting the creatures in the jar live and grow unmolested) from giving the jar a good shake.

The wink toward conventional religion, spiritualism, creationism, and the very nature of god is done in a playful manner, one that is harmless but that -- at the same time -- intrigues the reader with its implications.

Winter offers another theory on the nature of the deities in "myth." In this poem, "and the goddess [your name here]/ of [what you need most]/ grants her own wish."

Despite the simplicity and brevity of this piece, Winter gives two fairly straightforward views: the full power of the cosmos is there for the taking. Secondly, that power is for those people who are goddesses. What's good about this poem is that the use of brackets both define its form and also free up the implications. On the one hand, it's a standard form one could find in a doctor's office. On the other hand, its generality allows anyone to apply.

A goddess is, after all, not a human. Therefore, it stands to reason that the mortal form of male and female is no hindrance. In addition, this special godhood is not born out of desire or greed. It's born out of need, dire need. That's a lot of world view in an economy of language.

Both of these poems play straight into the theme of the overall book, which is that there is magic in the mundane. Whereas many do not see marvels in an egg, a pocket, a pair of mittens, or brushing one's teeth (among the various other themes of the poems), Winter reminds us that there are unexplored worlds in these places and wonders to be explored. She seems to be telling us to stop and think about what is happening, put some brain power into what we could do, into how much power we have over so many things.

What I like about both of the latter poems is exactly what I do not like about the first example. Poetry is not just pretty words on a page. Poetry is, instead, a powerful medium of expressing ideas. Poetry can move ideas in a way unavailable to prose, to painting, to music, or to other forms of art. Each of those forms have their own means of expression and each of those forms are independently important and their abilities are likewise unavailable to poetry. The interconnection between linguistic beauty and meaning is poetry's private domain. To pay attention to the one and to ignore the other is to create a bad poem (e.g. "e-Love").

Some of you out there might want to tell me about the meaning of "e-Love." I don't want to hear about it. Seriously. Don't bother. Instead, let's talk instead about galaxies and jars and the worlds between them. That would be much more worth our time.

Copyright © 2004 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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