Review by Ellen Miller-Mack
In Leaving Paradise, Gail Thomas writes about the natural world, climate change, her dog, her partner, seasons, dementia, Bethlehem Steel and being a mother, daughter and grandmother. She engages her subjects with extraordinary attention, precision, grace and love. Many of the poems in this volume are lyrical narratives. Thomas creates emotional effect through stories, and complex emotions are deeply woven within.
“Alchemy” tells the story of four generations of women through food. Great-granddaughter devours platters of meatballs from a recipe three generations old. You feel at home in this kitchen, among delectables musically rendered in mouthwatering detail.The poem advances to the consequences of illness and age, and ends with a pronouncement of daughterly love that floats like an undulating presence over so many of Thomas’s poems:
I imagine her at this table, set
with the pink-flowered plates I claimed
as great-grandchildren pronounce
the meatballs magical. And next to her
her mother’s flour-dusted hands
gesture a sign for forgiveness,
Her lyrical narratives weave stories together. The tentative lives of young salamanders ( “The Crossing”) in the path of reckless cars runs parallel to the dangers of adolescence. “Desire” begins with”swaths of scrub pine” and leads to “a stand of skeletons” “that resist wind and whisper”, and arrives at Joni Mitchell at Newport. A smooth glide. Thomas works this kind of magic throughout her work. The delight of surprise awaits you.
Thomas uses a variety of forms ( cento, golden shovel, villanelle and ghazel ) flawlessly. Her competence as a poet -wordsmith is matched by her emotional depth.
A poem about Margaritas? No, it’s actually about agave. You’ll learn something new about the plant ( with a cheery reminder that you are mortal) in “Ode to Agave”.
Leaving Paradise opens with “Aubade Between Seasons”.
Aubades are generally defined as poems about lovers parting at dawn; they also known as a “dawn serenade”. Through vivid imagery, Thomas accomplishes both. She fully captures a moment of transition from summer to fall, a moment where “One/ last morning glory opens, one/ bloody leaf splays the fading lawn.” Seasons change; we grieve what is lost as we welcome the fresh arrival of the new. What remains indelably are longing and desire, and an internal landscape lush with thriving gardens.
This poetry collection invited me in and I am grateful for the experience. I extend the invitation to you, poetry lovers. You will be in the hands of a brilliant poet.
Gail Thomas’ other books are Odd Mercy, Waving Back, No Simple Wilderness, and Finding the Bear. Her poems have been widely published in journals and anthologies. Among her awards are the Charlotte Mew Prize from Headmistress Press, the Narrative Poetry Prize from Naugatuck River Review, and the Massachusetts Center for the Book’s “Must Read.” She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and Ucross, and she is a teacher and editor. www.gailthomaspoet.com.
Leaving Paradise by Gail Thomas
Human Error Publishing 2022
72 pgs. $15
Ellen Miller-Mack has an MFA in Poetry from Drew University. Her book reviews have appeared in MER, Rattle and Rumpus. She is a coauthor of the Real Cost of Prisons Comix ( PM Press) and a member of Voices From Inside, which runs writing groups for currently or formerly incarcerated women. She produces “ Blame it on the Blues”, a radio show on www.sandwich radio.org. She is a nurse practitioner in primary care, and lives in Western Massachusetts.