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To have a poet of such stature as Riemke Ensing endorse your poetry is a great sign. In her cover blurb to the slender volume, Ensing likens Thomson’s voice to ‘the music of the street…a questioning voice…wanting freedom from restraint.’ Having little knowledge of Thomson’s work, this was as good a framework to start with as any for a close reading or review.
Looking through a musical lens, the poems vary in cadence. Some poems, such as land, could have been influenced by the beat poets or rap in their essential rhythms, and would work well in any live reading. There is a definite lyricism to much of the work, which lends itself well to being spoken aloud. There are musical references peppered throughout the book, like a delicate seasoning, for example, ‘dissonant tones, lines in a refrain, improvisation or simmering melody’, all of which are used in a poetic sense in Thomson’s poems. There are too many great examples, but the most obvious is the echoing rhyme that so often forms a refrain, ‘…pre-ordainment, lifting containment, elevating to derangement.’ (From the poem Hustle)
Ensing is right when she says much of the work feels ‘…alienated from much of the material world as we know it.’ This is not a negative criticism, but a recognition of the poet favouring the philosophical over the concrete throughout the collection. This out-of-body experience as a reader, gives the poems an ethereal quality, as if we ourselves are drifting like ghosts across the landscapes Thomson creates, observing them from a distance. ‘The world mapped out…because they so high…’ (One Strike) Then, occasionally, like nervous birds, we are brought in close for a fleeting moment – ‘sitting cigarette in hand…staring at feather…’ (Pondering Belief). Then, we zoom out again into the nebulous world of ideas. ‘Ruminating over your small world, looking out from within…Fade in fade out new day…time to slow things down.’ (Nerve At Work)
At times, this distance creates a blurriness or the reader, drawing them in. Like a film that pulls in and out of focus, unnerving in its fuzzy edges. It is fitting that Thomson is also a photographer. The cover photo in itself a blurred forest, perfectly illustrating the poet’s chosen style throughout. It is almost as if Thomson, being a visual artist longs to eschew this world for a change, to wax lyrical and use the page to ponder greater themes, without having to tether them to a fixed set of concrete images.
Like the jazz influence of the beat poets, the unsettled energy of the underlying rhythm defines much of the world. We feel the moments where traditional form would seek to land us, but are transported elsewhere. It is like listening to Miles Davis and not knowing exactly where he will take you next. It’s a beautiful feeling.
Reviewed by Anna Forsyth
by MaryJane Thomson
Published by The Night Press