The Dead Snail Diaries
by JAMIE McGARRY
REVIEW by STEVE RUDD
The third book of poetry to be unveiled by Yorkshire-based poet Jamie McGarry, ‘The Dead Snail Diaries’ has Jamie attempt to absolve himself of the guilt inspired by accidentally crushing an innocent snail to death. In a surreal twist of fate, upon hearing the fateful crunch, Jamie stooped to find a tiny book: the snail’s diary. Recognising the strength of the scrawl within its belittled pages, Jamie conspired to adapt the snail’s writing into a legible format. ‘The Dead Snail Diaries’ is the stunning result.
Suffused with twenty-four exquisite poems that focus on every imaginable experience and emotion once endured and enjoyed by the late snail, the premise is too extraordinary to overlook. Coolly beginning where the snail’s life left off, the opening poem is craftily entitled, ‘The Haunting of Poet by Snail’. As hoped, it details ‘A tragic mix of slime and shrapnel’ in light of Jamie unwittingly becoming a killer… though he’d undoubtedly escape with a manslaughter charge were he to be summoned by a court of law. After all, shell-shocking accidents happen.
Hilariously portraying slugs as ‘beer-swilling’ and ‘hard-living’ in comparison, Jamie sets up a strain of sibling rivalry, the menacing nature of ‘The Hollow Snails’ startling with its apparent brutality: ‘You saw us from a window, between release and our demise.’ In ‘Snail Browner Than Ever’, affairs sway into existential territory, at least relatively-speaking: ‘The world grows ever upwards, without glancing at its feet.’ Jamie’s correct to so boldly commit such an observation to paper. It’s heartening to know that fellow scribes are equally as keen to comment upon the way in which some folk dismiss the art of paying attention to detail, unwilling to keep themselves grounded for fear of stagnating, perhaps.
Whether he’s focused on snails, or describing Hannah Hauxwell’s humble life in his debut collection of poetry, Jamie remains an objective observer whilst subjectively pandering to the entire gamut of emotions. Crucially, his tongue is forever lashing around his cheek, Jamie’s sharp wit triumphing in making his poetry as accessible as possible without sounding pretentious. Channelling offbeat bursts of humour into a staggering proportion of his poems, Jamie proves that he can be serious yet lighthearted in one fell swoop – very often in the same sentence.
‘Snail Goes Speed Dating’ speaks for itself in the most ironic manner. ‘Even mutual love at first sight cannot be consummated for several minutes,’ Jamie relates by way of the deceased snail’s most potent observation. Throughout, slugs tend to get the last laugh. For instance, ‘Slug’s Night Out’ pounds with the self-belief of a tough-as-nails slug psyched-up for a hedonistic night on the patio tiles. In spite of a slug committing suicide in lukewarm beer, the poem can’t fail in raising a smile. The same goes for the genius extolled in ‘The Snail Not Taken’ (‘I moved the one with regret in its eyes – and hoped it would make a difference’), for it’s a beautifully crafted poem partly inspired by Robert Frost’s most famous work, ‘The Road Not Taken’.
‘Snail’s Advice to His Son’ succeeds in being utterly charming from the get-go as a young snail receives wise words from Papa Snail, chewing on advice along the following lines: ‘Don’t take life too seriously, son, for few survive uncrushed.’ In its wake, the colossal ‘In Search of the Great Green Sea Snail’ muscles into the word-obsessed fray. Providing the multi-act backbone of the collection, it tells the epic story of an all-conquering snail. ‘A Snail at the Races’, meanwhile, chances upon arguably the most confident snail to ever have marked a trail in history, implying that he could ‘move’ as fast as Usain Bolt if the urge commanded his shell to shift at earth-shaking speed. Delighting in all nooks and crannies of Snail World, the problem of swimming with one ‘foot’ is also brought to the reader’s attention. ‘A Snail Says’ and ‘Slug Goes to Rehab’ foster further laughs.
Complemented by a grin-inducing range of illustrations throughout, ‘The Dead Snail Diaries’ perfectly showcases Jamie’s artistic talents from the first page to the last. Admirably acting as a marked deviation from previous work, the book is a joy not only to read, but also to look at. Quirkily designed with a plethora of loving touches, it represents the most endearing manifestation of Jamie’s sensational literary output to date.