Trio. Sarah Tolmie. McGill-Queen's University Press. The Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series. Montreal & Kingston, London, Ithaca. 2015.
Back on May 14, 2015, Today's book of poetry wrote about Sarah Tolmie's excellent chapbook Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems from the also excellent Baseline Press. Today we have the distinct pleasure of sharing Tolmie's first full-length collection - Trio.
This is another collection of sonnets, 120 of 'em. You have to know by now that Today's book of poetry is not a big fan of the formal, but we do try to keep a polymorphous and evolving mind. This is a good thing for the dance that Trio invites us to.
Touchy, touchy, beauty boy. And you say
You have no ego. The slightest hint of
Disapproval and you get plaintive
Or your hackles rise. You don't really
Know what you want from me. Fortunately,
I do. Reinforcement: you've long been short.
You need a constant bath. This phase may pass,
But I don't think so. Fine. Come right back
With a stung retort. Yet women pet you.
Do we not? Why? Not because you're cute.
Because it is what you're looking for. Mama's
Hurt boy cries out, help; helpless, we answer.
No fair, you say, I suffer. I agree.
I hear. Men like you need women like me.
Our female protagonist is strung out on a very tight high-wire where desire and reason are the anchors at each end of the rope. Of course she tries to keep it all balanced but with the weight of two younger lovers it becomes a precarious perch.
Tolmie puts it all out there, she's on a delicate precipice yet continues to sing electric.
Experimenting with unusual grips
I get the soft gift of your equipment
Resting briefly on my leg. These liquescent
Parts of us that we hide away, as if
Shameful, are just in another state,
One not quite solid. Breasts that we have to
Pour into cups to carry, hanging
Testicular sacs, ridiculous, they
Pose a challenge to the rest of us.
We are not all hard, all made, cooked to
The max. Just as our breath is gas, so too
Are we these trembling yolks, delicate
Skinned fluids. Amid your solid strength
Is change of state, always being born again.
These poems reach past the simply carnal, they are sad Marlon with his butter in blue, blue Paris. These elegant poems dream and cry in the same breath.
Tolmie knows exactly how long each light in the darkening sky will last.
We think love can beat death and entropy.
It can't. Best you can do is have it age
And change with you, capably. Holding
A new penny in your hand doesn't make
You any younger, and only richer
By one cent. The youth and beauty of
Another does not mean yours in not spent.
What did you buy with yours? Of that love,
What is left? What interest has accrued?
And how much would you lose, only to
Start again with a single penny? Not
Even yours, but merely lent? A sum
So small you hardly see it in your palm,
Just a glint for which you would trade all.
Sarah Tolmie's Trio is a marvel. Clearly Tolmie is a lover of a more formal poetic tradition, and she honours it, these poems are submarine tight - but for someone who loves the form she sure delights in rendering it invisible.
Trio reads more like a romantic and sad pillow book. A few brisk kicks to the heart and a somewhat lusty frisk. Tolmie uses these sonnets like bullets from a poetry gun. She is trying to navigate the bloody journey that runs between her heart and two others. But make no mistake, Tolmie's the boss.
It is a strong woman's journey.
Today's book of poetry will follow Tolmie anywhere now.
ABOUT THE AUTHORSarah Tolmie is associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo. Her books include the novel The Stone Boatman and the short story collection NoFood.
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