In Review: Green Green Green by Gillian Osborne

Gillian Osborne’s collection of poetic essays and letters, Green Green Green, sat in my to-read pile through the end of summer, and for some reason, I turned to its vibes of spring as the weather grew colder in the fall. Osborne expresses some agreement with Thoreau’s statement that “books of natural history make the most cheerful winter reading,” and perhaps that is why this inherently seemed like a suitable time to pick up this vibrant assembly of all things green.

Osborne thoroughly dissects the mid-spectrum color green and its countless associations. She describes green as the antithesis to winter, as life and full, fresh fields, but also green as death, as a tinge to the skin or bile. It is both sides of a coin, both familiar and strange, calm and eerie. Much of her content beyond the color is centered around plants. There is a special significance to every single blade of grass, and there are seasons within seasons, with different flowers and faces as each month passes by.

Even as we wait expectantly through bleak snowy winters for the first buds of spring to blossom, we are surprised somehow to see the reappearance of the flowers. It feels new every year, the timeless beauty and fortitude of the earth. In Osborne’s work, we brush across the astonishing pace of global warming, extinction, and deforestation, and question how many world changes are truly predictble or inevitable. We are inspired to look forward and imagine what the future of our planet could physically look like, how green it may be.

We are also repeatedly drawn backwards, as Osborne dives deeply into both popular and lesser known literature from centuries past. Dickinson and Hitchcock are dominant figures bestowing a wide breadth of knowledge, with citations and essays on the progression of various catalogues of plants. There is both an art and a science of gardens, an objective ranking of flowers on a scale of perfection.

Osborne explores plants quite literally, and readers can expect to be fully immersed in lilies and poppies, lichen and mushrooms. However, flourishing and struggling flowers are also related to writing and to human life. Like a garden, “how barren and barely a thing [is] a poem,” and we are called to read things in the way we might have before we were trained to read otherwise. Through education and simply the passage of time, people often reject their natural instincts and perceptions in favor of more structure or formality.

Our humanity is deduced only from comparison to non-human things around us, and it is our humanity that allows us to appreciate those non-human things, such as the romanticism of the language and history of flowers. To belong in a place called home is to know not the names of your neighbors, but the names of the flowers growing by your road.

Green Green Green is a book where sentiment meets science, in the heartfelt progression of years gone by.  There is something undeniably maudlin about family, seasons, and poetry, and Osborne brings this into focus with ruminations on grandparents, California droughts, ecological surveys and sonnets. She lingers on the gifts of the elderly, of books and honey. She characterizes women – and flowers – as “bright and child-like and doomed,” and dedicates a number of pages to the internal crisis of not knowing whether or not she wanted to be a mother. She shows us our green world through the eyes of both student and teacher, stranger and friend, mother and child.

Both Osborne’s essays and letters to friends are critical thought pieces, and she circles back to where each thought began. When did your interest in writing begin, when did you become interested in writing specifically this, when did you realize that this was the way to do it? Osborne answers all of these questions and more, in her own unique type of environmental study.

Keep up with Osborne’s long-standing interest and impact in ecopoetics on her website, http://www.gillianosborne.net, to see what she has done and what more is yet to come.

(Nightboat Books, June 2021)


BETHANY CRAWFORD has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.