BOOK REVIEW: In the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson

In the Dark, Soft EarthIn the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Watson’s collection seizes one’s senses. Much of the poetry takes an imagist approach, using free verse poems with spare language to generate vivid, concrete images in the mind. That said, there are a number of poetic styles that appear throughout, including: haiku, tanka, sonnets (in Book X), and various lyrical variations. While natural imagery features prominently, there’s also surrealist, ethereal visuals in play as well.

The poems are arranged into ten sections, and while each book has an overarching theme there are themes that seem to cut across books. The titular notion of something buried is one of these. Another such concept is the journey.

The second section generates an expansive feeling of space as well as time. Book III intrigued me as it focused on organization, assembly, and the creation of something out of pieces and parts – which created a unique feel. Books IV and V shifted focus to hearing rather than seeing, though it largely did so by invoking the action of music creation and dance.

The book presents paintings from the fifteenth century through to the present-day throughout the book. Many of these artworks begin various sections of the collection and give one a flash of insight into the theme that will play out through that section. However, there are numerous poems that are presented as homages to paintings – notably, the whole of book VIII is poems based on tarot card imagery and subject matter.

While the majority of the paintings referenced have Western origins, one also sees Eastern influences at various points in the collection – both in the poems and in some of the paintings. Asian influences are most explicitly experienced in Book IX, which features several poems of Chinese or Japanese inspiration. The last section presents a few sonnets amid free verse poems.

I enjoyed this collection and would highly recommend it for poetry readers or those who love the visual arts, particularly those curious to see how a poet creates another dimension of experience in the realm of visceral sensation.

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