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Deep Redby Rawdon Tomlinson
Synopses & Reviews
"Richard Hugo had said: 'for lines are really the veins of men / whether men know it or not.' The same might be said of Rawdon Tomlinson's impressive book Deep Red. It is testament to the fact that authentic poetry simply can't be faked. It must always cost. It must always hurt a little. It must manage somehow to be, like Deep Red, that most difficult paradox: beautifully human."--Jonathan Holden, University Distinguished Professor/Poet-in-Residence, Kansas State University
"Deep Red elegizes the joys, violences, and losses of a family culture of a particular region and time, transforming these losses by the activity of poetry. 'Mother's Roses,' 'Lightning-Struck Boy,' 'For James Riley,' and 'Letter in Middle Age to My Ex-Wife, Not Mailed' show Rawdon Tomlinson at his best, but for the depth of recovery these poems enact, one should read Deep Red as a single work."--Kenneth Fields, Stanford University, author of The Odysseus Manuscripts
Rawdon Tomlinson has said about Deep Red: "I wrote the book because I wanted to preserve moments from my memory. The poems are attempts to find beauty and light in the pain of experience and in the chaos of time."
This is a modestly stated credo, the credo, in fact, of most people who attempt to write poetry; but Tomlinson has actually achieved this redemptive act. His material is his Oklahoma childhood, memories of the cruelties boys suffer and inflict, stories of the townspeople his parents told and the stories they became. Simple stories, but his gifts are his awareness of how mysterious and baffling life must be for everyone and his ability to forge a gorgeous image from the meanest moment.
In the poem "Mother's Roses," for example, the boy, having finished the task of trenching and damming the rose beds, is "lulled by that bright scene / Of sparrow-chattering trees," then becomes aware of nature's other face, "the mantis praying here,
Mimicking leaf, its cat's eyes frigidly clear, a monarch
Clasped in beak; the eyesockets of the meadowlark
Seething with coffee-grounds-like ants--the dissonance
Fugal, accompanied by Sister's Chopin, strictly cadenced
With Mother's metronome, wills fastened to eternity
Tightly as cicada nymphs. . ."
Here, everything in the universe has the possibility of becoming something else: the mantis, a leaf; the ants, coffee grounds; the locked wills of mother and daughter; cicada nymphs; and in the final transformation, the mother, a rose in the garden of her own life:
We never guessed the merciless lack, thirst deep-rooted in
Her childhood's desert: cowboy Father's flash-flood love
Run-off, hardscrabble dry, quick as the rose beds soaked to mud.
Now, another lesson's spleen. Or, is it grace?
Mysterious love guided to perfection, pain embraced?
From her wasting husk a radiant rose unfolds--Faith
Tempered in the blacksun inferno of age.
It is this magic, this Protean power, that consoles the poet and invites lovers of poetry to a never-ending feast.
Rawdon Tomlinson grew up in the farm and ranch country of southwestern Oklahoma. He has taught literature and writing at the University of Denver, and his poems have been published in many journals, in the chapbook ,Down Under It All, and in the collection Touching the Dead. He lives in Denver.
'The sadly cruel but necessary questioning which goes on in this powerful book is always softened by reminders that maybe we don't know anything, but are still obligated to act, and to act as if we know something good and noble and even useful about the world...Rawdon Tomlinson's poems teach us that the world always talks back to us whether we are listening or not.'--Bin Ramke, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize
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