London Grip Poetry Review – Michael W Thomas


Poetry review – A TIME FOR SUCH A WORD: Tina Cole finds a quiet strength in the latest collection by Michael W Thomas


A Time for Such a Word 
Michael W. Thomas 
Black Pear Press
ISBN 9781913418960

Michael W. Thomas’s ninth poetry collection, A Time for Such a Word contains 53 poems in eight sections. Here are voices with stories that animate a landscape both physical and personal; and the skill of Thomas’ writing enables an in-depth and human view of their worlds.

These poems have something to say that will ring true and they do not disappoint. The tone throughout is easy and relatable, the writing has a distinctive quality of sincere, well-crafted detail where poems are densely packed with rich, vivid imagery. Thomas places characters at the centre and addresses them with tenderness, awe and sometimes wonder. The language is arresting in its fine observations; the reader at once feels caught by the intensity and yet at home with the narrative as if these were all old friends. At times the poems reminded me of the writing of American Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, who also reflects on past and present lives with sometimes whimsical tones and sometimes acute, clear-eyed appraisals. Poet Alison Chisholm, has also compared Thomas’s poems to the writing of Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes.

The book’s title is drawn from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act V Scene 5, where the dialogue between Macbeth and Seyton focusses on the death of the queen, and death, or at least ageing, does seem to hover in the wings of this drama but never really makes a grand entrance. There is a retrospective thread on a life lived and inevitable ageing/ mortality but it is also infused with heartfelt fascination, moments in time and a celebration of living – cats and Midsomer Murders also making an appearance! I particularly enjoyed the poignant poem, “Quiet in Whitened Space”

Come a certain time I may simply stand, 
dust off the moment’s particulars 
go to sit quiet in whitened space 
and be about my salvation… 

Thomas effectively uses everyday objects to focus the reader and augment the intensity of the writing. The poems are moving but in a low key and sometimes humorous tone, allowing the reader to absorb metaphors of memory and insight without disturbance. “Fastness” recalls

Bits of early school
where the same clock 
followed me from room to room 
and giants with artillery mouths 
and clouds on their shoulders 
broke off pieces of the sky 
and threw then at fairway heads

Clearly Thomas has drawn on his own experience, but it is the language that sings out and makes these ordinary worlds pulse with life. I love particularly his use of colloquialisms such as, pizzazz, widdershins, woozy, flummoxed and hyphenated gems such as fol-de-rols and fly-by-nights which appear in “Petrol at Yarnton”:

Radio Oxford gives over
with the fol-de-rols about sofa bonanzas 
and the latest fly-by-nights who’ll buy any car

There are injections of humour that are moments of joy;

The footings felt for the shoulder of the hill 
like someone who knows he’s drunk 
and suspects that midnight steps are icy 
                                                       [“Middle Ash”]

There are also examples of wonderful pictorial vividness

the man who collides
at the turn to my crescent 
drunk as elevenpence 
flinging all he’s ever been 
in staggers to right and left 
                                                       [“From this Day”] 

A Time for such a Word offers journeys leading near and far, through the Black Country landscape of childhood and to distant Grenada in the Caribbean. It is wonderfully packed with reflections on single moments in time and long held reflections of the past. These tender, generous, witty poems need time to be read; each one has much to offer and if I had any criticism, I would say that it is hard to turn the pages and leave one poem behind for another.

In an attempt to choose a favourite I will offer “Throatline”, a poem that deal with much more than the pair of shoes that is its apparent subject matter

A man walks down the last street 
of the old year 

His tread remembers
crisper vamps of roughout 
big hearted canvas quarters
how they curated steps
easier and faster
Now the year drops away
the truth of age
flowers cold through his backstays
and snugs along his tongues
He will not need another pair.

One could say that the softer the voice, the more penetratingly it reaches us. I very much enjoyed these poems, and I think their quiet voices will move other readers too. I cannot recommend them highly enough.