You don’t have to get far into Green Islands: Poems from the Great Bear Rainforest, by Ian Thomas, to understand why it was selected as the Raven Chapbooks Poetry Contest winner. Rich in metaphor and figurative language, the 26 poems in this chapbook evoke the flora, fauna, and atmosphere of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest with evocative vividness.
In the book’s Afterword, Thomas states, “These poems were written over several years as I worked as a biologist, studying wildlife in the territory of the Haítzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation.” The extended timing over which the poems were written lends the quality of well-aged cheese, or of stones turned over and over so that they acquire a certain smoothness.
Thomas’s familiarity with his subjects shows in his descriptions. “Kunsoot” contains the lines “Spotted fins of pink salmon flickered on the surface / like drifting leaves or drowning butterflies.” “Wolf Encounter” suggests that the wolf is “lovely like a whole hill of incense.” Thomas alludes to the wolf accessing “the dense library” of its nostrils” and walking on “spruce-tip feet.” In “Wolf Eyes,” he notes of the title creature,
His fur is the colour of old kelp,
unevenly bleached, a fading brown
too long out of water.
Some descriptions are more figurative. In the poem “Islands,” Thomas pens the lines:
. . . a lemon-colored warbler
is carrying an island out of the deep sea
and fixing it to the centre of the world.
In “Grizzly Bear, Neekas Creek,” Thomas describes the bear as having an “anvil of a head,” adding that “his nose is a black hole from which no light escapes.”
Many of the poems articulate the awe and sense of wonder one often feels in the presence of nature. In “Humpback Whale,” Thomas writes:
Is this object huge?
Is it tiny,
a drifting seed on the vast face of the ocean?
Is it fast or slow?
Such questions don’t make sense, don’t matter—
Thomas also contemplates the nature’s interconnectedness. “Kunsoot” includes the lines:
Back we crept from where the salmon, chasing life, drove life
into bears, wolves, trees, insects, and insect-eating birds.
We descended from the bowels of the mystery.
Green Islands is printed on quality paper with a slight gloss and selected photos and drawings complement the poems without drawing attention away from them. Though Green Islands was inspired by the Great Bear Rainforest, it’s easy to appreciate the content even if you haven’t been there. As someone who loves and respects nature, I found Green Islands resonant and evocative. Admirers of nature, and those who enjoy fine poetry, will find much to like between the covers of this chapbook.
Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.