Answer to Blue by Russell Thornton

There are poems in Russell Thornton’s Answer to Blue that stun me.

I keep reading and re-reading “Blue” wanting to live briefly in the world that Thornton has created. The speaker addresses someone who has taught them “a new word for water” (3). The language and rhythm take on the aspect of waves rolling onto a desolate shore. As the speaker learns the language of this space, he unlearns fundamental aspects of the way he has previously seen the world. They are left with a profound openness and unknowingness. In fact, the word blue comes to take on this sense of uncertainty, and it propels the speaker through this journey into disintegration and rebirth. When I read and re-read “Blue”, I feel as though I am the speaker on this shore, that language of Thornton’s poem rolling over me like blue waves.

Another charming aspect of Thornton’s work is that he has this magical ability to infuse the personal with the mystical. “Greek Fire” is particularly interesting for the way it fuses history and myth and desire. Thornton writes, “History says there was once an incendiary weapon—/a fire that ignited on contact with water and burned on water” (4-5). He builds intrigue with this initial story—one of history’s great curiosities. But it becomes far more intriguing when the fire takes on a metaphorical aspect to overwrite a fleeting romantic encounter that the speaker has had: “and if the burning of water of a story/ is love freed from time, then we were two enemies/ allowed to kiss forever within a moment, and the formula lost” (25-27). The closing tercet wraps up the poem with a satisfying metaphorical flourish. In a lesser poet’s hands, this image might seem hyperbolic, but with Thornton, it works beautifully. I might not read it again and again as I have with “Blue”, but it has stayed with me long afterwards.

These are just a few samples from Answer to Blue. Much of the work leans toward the personal and the confessional. There are some compelling moments where the pandemic pops into a few of the poems, and one can’t help but wonder how such gestures will read in the years to come when COVID-19 has hopefully passed. Will they be haunting reminders, or will they be jarring distractions? My hope is that, for those of us who have been living through the pandemic, they will be a surprise—that we will have forgotten about the years of living with masks over our faces and constantly scrubbing our hands. I am not sure, but I am certain that I can fully recommend Answer to Blue as an engaging, immersive collection of poems that transports and mystifies. 

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About the Author

Russell Thornton’s collection The Hundred Lives (Quattro Books, 2014) was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. His Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain (Harbour Publishing, 2013) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, the Raymond Souster Award and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. His other titles include The Fifth Window (Thistledown Press, 2000), A Tunisian Notebook (Seraphim Editions, 2002), House Built of Rain (Harbour Publishing, 2003; shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the ReLit Award for poetry), The Human Shore and The Broken Face (Harbour Publishing, 2006 and 2018). His most recent collection is Answer to Blue (Harbour Publishing, 2021). Thornton’s poetry has appeared in several anthologies and as part of BC’s Poetry in Transit. He lives in North Vancouver, BC.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harbour Publishing (Oct. 23 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550179675
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550179675

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Angela
January 21, 2022 05:00

Thanks for the recommendation, Tom. Will get that book.

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