Invasion Without Malice: A Review of Lanternfly August by Robin Gow

Reviewed by Lee Dobecka

Lanternfly August
by Robin Gow
Driftwood Press
October 2023, Paperback, 100 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1949065282

In Lanternfly August, Robin Gow inspects the concepts of belonging and intruding with open curiosity, like a child inspecting a captured bug. They examine what it’s like to be unwelcome through the lens of a queer person from a small, rural town. 

Gow accomplishes this by rooting each poem back to it’s initial inspiration-the yearly influx of invasive lanternflies in the area that feed on trees and grapevines until they die, only to perish themselves soon after. For many pieces, Gow even writes from the perspective of a lanternfly. 

In a poignant piece titled, “Do Lanternflys Bite or Sting?” it reads: 

To swarm without malice is simply to gather.
Haven’t you wanted to collect without defense? 
We are always asking, “How will this hurt me?” 
instead “How will I hurt this?”

These lines deftly depict a potentially harmful human tendency that can be applied to any number of “othered” demographics and groups, yet I feel such minimal judgment in the tone. This is a refreshing energy that I appreciated throughout the book. 

I also appreciated the bits of surrealism planted through the work. These poems are rich in nature-language like thorax, legs, forest, ribs, and peach pits. So it’s fitting that this book reminds me of a tree with roots ensnared in the earth. Yet, there is also an edge of brisk oddity that brings to mind the uppermost branches of a tree, swung wildly about by a strong wind. Examples of this oddity include, what kind of metal sleep you take? and I used to want to be a dinner plate so badly.

A fair number of poems feature an unconventional placement on the page, and though these uniquely arranged pieces didn’t feel heavy-handed, I still found myself a bit frustrated at times. They made me ask, What’s the point?, but I think that may be precisely the point, to question the author’s motivation, and in my case, to question my undue agitation.

On that topic. Lanternfly August contains over 70 questions, making it an earnest invitation to readers to ask more questions themselves-about their relationship to where they live, about harmful public policies, or societal norms and expectations. This valuable message could prove inspiring to many readers.

Gow’s words as a whole exude empathy and gentleness. These poems create a thought-provoking collection that doesn’t delve too deeply into melancholy. In fact, a quiet declaration of rebellion is woven through the book, most clearly outlined in the final lines:

…I refuse to stop being from here, 
my small town where the sun becomes a street lamp.
I am here in a flock of lanternflies though you may try
       to rid your torsos of me.

Because of its moderate voice and pertinent subject matter, I think this book would be well-suited to both long-time poetry enthusiasts and someone relatively new to the genre

About the reviewer: Lee Dobecka (they/them) is a poet and novelist with a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. As a queer, neurodivergent person, Lee holds space for marginalized groups with their work. When not writing, Lee studies music and cares for their cat, Aziraphale. They can be found online at and on Threads with the handle @wordsfromleetoyou.