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Posted February 21, 2008
Thom Ward is the author of three collections of poetry: Small Boat with Oars of Different Size, Tumblekid (winner of the Devil's Millhopper Poetry Contest), and now Various Orbits. This latest collection may be a mere ninety-six pages, but its forty-five poems are anything but light. Ranging from free verse to didactic, from anti-narrative to Pantoum, Various Orbits swings a wide arc through the poetic universe, but always returns home to the heart. Ward¿s mastery of the craft can be seen instantly in 'Night Game,' in which he describes the simple beauty of the moon, told as a baseball analogy. Likewise, 'Though Monarchs Exploit the Disparity Among Us,' an ode to ale, amongst other things, may be the most poetic drinking song ever written. Humor is in abundance here, in 'Viagra Falls' and 'After Decades of Silence, Toilet Speaks,' the latter told from the point of view of, well, a toilet. This humor is balanced with the graceful art of 'Poem Without a Freight Train or a Pocket Watch,' 'What'll It be Tonight, the Heart or the Fist?' and 'Poetry Is a Game of Managing Your Mistakes.' Each is an exciting turn at the Malayan/French Pantoum form. The poet's variations on this style are both intriguing and edgy. And what can you say about 'Joseph and the Boss,' a poem that pulls together theology, psychology, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Sominex sleep aids, and Newark, New Jersey? It is a poem that turns the would-be comic line '...you're the propane for God's barbecue,' into something like reverence. Even 'Cheesehead,' though it may slip in a dry pun here and there at the expense of Green Bay Packer fans, ends as something more something like a gentle sermon. 'Wreckage' is a similar conundrum, containing humor (she'd relinquished drinking / but everyone / could smell the poetry / on her breath), while ending in the following, very unexpected way: the sharp light / of each hour's doubt / and frustration / this clickety-clack / blue-veined volt world / we love but cannot trust, / all of us, scattering / wreckage in our wake, / in search of something / like justice, something / like mercy. What¿s most likely to catch the eye is Ward¿s incredible description, in poems like 'Third Night in San Francisco,' 'Cycling Through Taylor¿s Basin,' 'Saranac,' 'Ontario,' and 'Seneca.' Their landscapes, real or imagined, are now pictured in my mind as truly as those of my own hometown. A nd if this weren¿t enough, there is more beauty to be found beneath the surface of each of these poems. In 'Saranac,' the simple description of docks and boathouses, empty of summer tourists once again, evokes a certain magic. Plumb its depths, and you find lines such as: this moment balanced amid / almost and was - and -the thought of men / doing nothing useful in a world / so weary of usefulness. Beneath the gorgeous description of 'Seneca,' we find: When we dive into this water, / cobalt, windblown, fierce, / we're certain to come out / on the other side of yes. And within the lush description of small town America in 'Cycling Through Taylor¿s Basin,' there is: I need to travel / among the old versions of who / we thought we were. These poems may revolve around fictional people or places, but they reveal greater truths about humanity than anything else I've read or seen in years truly a hallmark of great art, in any form. Various Orbits is unabashedly, and undeniably, brilliant. It is beautiful, thoughtful, and funny. I would say that Ward¿s poetry has a sense of magic to it, but that wouldn't be true. Ward¿s poetry IS magic, and it is nothing less than magic I experience each time I read, and re-read, this book. *************************** Mr. Ward has degrees in English from both the College of Wooster and SUNY Brockport, has been editor of more than sixty collections of poetry, and is a teacher of creative writing workshops in elementary and high schools, as well as through the Writers & Books Literary Center. He iWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.