Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cost of Walking by Shannon Tharp

Skyskill Press, 2011. I had the pleasure of hearing Shannon Tharp read poems from The Cost of Walking in New York in October. The room fell completely silent as she read. A sudden attentiveness was palpable as the audience awakened to the gravity of her words and to the voice of these poems— one that is careful but insistent and vital. It’s clear that Tharp listens to the sounds of the world, the sounds of her words, and to “the weather within,” as John Taggart writes.

The poems in Tharp’s first full-length collection confront various physical landscapes and climates. The images are often Midwestern— fields, stretches of highway, vacant barns, or they are Pacific Northwestern— rain, fog, harbors, the sea. The poems’ speaker pulls at these environments and turns them inward. Of course this comes at a cost— the longing that is established in thinking through the particulars of existence, an awareness that we walk through the world alone, and what we do have is received in moments and pieces. This is what poetry gives us. This is what it can do: “What of birds and the peculiarity of / flight— a pattern by which to scratch // existence. What of me and the inexpense of / sitting in a field with your face / to any nameable thing.” (“Steady, Less and Less”)

The poems are often short and sometimes written in one and two word lines. This form gives each word weight and value. It’s as if a wind has blown through the poem leaving just its spine or perhaps the edge of a wound: “The / ocean // reasserts / itself. // Each / wave // makes / a crater.” (“Travelogue”) These poems are real and truly beautiful. We get to dwell solely in the sublime, and that’s refreshing. From “After Astronomy”:

“Books, porcelain, windows are open,

and heaven could be said

to be a wreck.

The clouds are here,

they aren’t up in the sky— that’s

your handwriting, that’s the way you write.

I told you I need something

to hold— here I am cold

with you, without.”

I could not give a book a higher recommendation. This one’s important. Read it. Get it right here:

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