The Whole Tree as Told to the Backyard
Published by Litterature d’Aphelie, an imprint of Rocky Shore Books
I first fell in love with Russell Thorburn’s poems because of their wild sense of invention, poems that liked to play with history and time, that liked to take such public figures as Ty Cobb and Apollinaire and place them into strangely contemporary situations. There was something of the ‘never before’ in these earlier poems that Thorburn seemed to be pulling out from thin air, a sleight of hand poetics that seemed to be hiding up his magician’s sleeve. Of late, in his last two books, Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged and here in his latest, The Whole Tree as Told to the Backyard, Thorburn has turned away from persona and invention in favor of the deeply personal, the skinlessly domestic—the tensions of the marital bedroom, the desires that still burn for other lovers, other lives—and although it’s difficult to say if Thorburn is inventing a personal past or drawing from it, the end result is that the feelings behind these new poems are authentically and emotionally true and that the hard truths that the poet is making point to a life that is turbulent and trembling with familial unrest. To read these poems is to encounter the heart of a man that is shaped by the ache of longing and driven by the insistence to go on living and loving even though it might be easier to surrender to the silence and indifference of inarticulation. These are poems of the first order, made out of the Beckettian mustness—I can’t go on, I must go on—that resides on the flipside of can’t. And I’m happy that he has, that Russell Thorburn did.