U.K. poet Sarah Thomson has published Before It’s Too Late, her first collection of poetry (a short collection, called a chapbook in the U.S. and a pamphlet in the U.K.). Its 20 poems represent a range of poetic forms — pantoum, villanelle, free verse, triolet, and others. Thomson is a poet embarking upon a publication journey, and she’s trying different forms and different ideas.
If there is a centering theme in this collection, it is the idea of impermanence and fragility, whether in relationships, physical location, or a truce during war. In “At the Cinema,” two people sitting in chairs at the beach are likened to indistinct shadows in the sun. In “Lament of a Sperm Whale,” the title mammal dreams in “the toxic plastic sea.” The man who wants his England back in “In search of England” isn’t quite sure who the enemy is, or whom he wants his England back from.
In “Silent Night,” one of the great scenes of World War I — the no-man’s-land of the Christmas Truce of 1914 — becomes a place where weeds now grow, and farmers now plow. And in “Poem for Katy,” Thomson reminds us that the physical buildings that mean so much and often shape us when we live in them, “these houses that we loved,” become memories when we move and leave them behind.
The same ideas of impermanence and fragility are found in so many of our relationships.
Now she’s flown
I miss her
it can’t be helped
any more than
that seized me
all those years ago
echo in my ears
the train arrives
she misses me
once more the child
watching me walk away
and the radio
speaks of rescue
the soft accent
curling like smoke
as the trees darken
against the sky
This precious one
pecked up my trail
then saved me
astounds me daily
with her selfless love
I wonder whether the collection’s use of different poetic forms of poetry suggests that, while so much fades away, the form remains.
A native of the United Kingdom, Thomson studied English at the University of Exeter. She’s had a varied career in publishing, accounting, and human resources. She’s lived and worked in the Netherlands and Singapore, and currently resides in Bristol. Her publisher is The Hedgehog Poetry Press. Thomson is also the co-author of A Hostile Environment (Conversations), published with Nigel Kent, author of the collection Saudade.
Don’t be misled by the relatively few poems contained in Before It’s Too Late. Each poem prompts reflection and serious thought. Each challenges what we think we know about the familiar. And each asks us to answer questions, like what lasts? What’s important? And what if those answers are not the same?
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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