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Tom Weston’s Only One Question is his latest of several collections of poetry. This work is cerebral and carefully rendered, and it was unsurprising to learn that Weston’s day-job is in law. This is premeditated poetry, with scrutiny to detail and an emphatic wish for clarity.
The blurb states that these poems ‘came into existence pre-earthquake but have been shaped and moulded post-earthquake’. And indeed, the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 haunt this collection, but it would be wrong to suggest this is a defining feature. Poems such as ‘Earthquake, elsewhere’ transport the reader to shaky terrain. But the poetry here has a sweep broader than disaster-poetry per sé. Subjects range vastly from the contemplation of a terrestrial ‘astronaut’, the passing of a dog, a wedding, observations of an hotel lobby. But these subjects are the vehicles for the introduction of loftier ideas. The ‘astronaut’ ponders the absurd repetitions of his days on earth. Meanwhile, ‘the old dog’ looks at our perception of the past. Every ordinary object lugs with it something bigger. This poetry has a philosophical edge.
Weston is a master of abstraction, and our attempts to relay meaning occupy a large space of his work. Language is seen as a tool that can haul things into the world, but also affirm the empty and ineffable. Weston’s people are sometimes ‘speechless’, sometimes ‘holding candles and waiting for words to matter again’. There is a sense that language is a device with which we are at best flailing and incompetent. Weston asks ‘how do we speak and whose language is it’. Moreover, words can be wielded in an attempt to break with reality, to delude and to deceive.
Weston, however, has a command of words which belies such ideas. There is a feeling that he labours to convey meaning ‘just so’ in the face of linguistic constraints. But it is where he lets his poetry slip into the visceral and the everyday, that his strength is most profound. Weston’s imagery is vivid and compelling and, I reckon, punches beyond the more intellectual observations that surround. ‘When winter speaks’ is about the rebuilding of a city. Here is my favourite stanza from the collection (although it can be said I have several) – ‘Let frost build cathedrals in the grass. Each/ blade, each clover leaf to lean against the next, a frozen city/ all hued in white’.
Tom Weston’s Only One Question is a multi-layered, expansive and erudite collection. This work demands a little time and thought. If you have both, then this may be for you.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton
Only One Question
by Tom Weston
Published by Steele Roberts Publishers