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Thesaurus of Separation Paperback – June 8, 2016
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Review of Thesaurus of Separation (The Brattleboro Reformer)
Reviewed by Charles Butterfield
After my dictionary, the most wornbook on my desk is my thesaurus, a gold mine of synonyms and antonyms for theword I'm seeking. Mayo's title, "Thesaurus of Separation," prepared me forpoems seeking to say what deep separation feels like. The nearly four-dozenpoems in this collection range over many kinds of separation.
Separation by death, especiallydeath of a lover, motivates some of these poems. The poem "Shelter" asks how shall we mourn?By remembering a loved one's physical body and its limitations, "the soul'sbetraying shelter," or the essence, "ashaded piece of air/ [that rises] like a smoke ring: perfectly formed"?
Incidentally, something like asmoke ring appears as a visual motif separating the major sections of Mayo'scollection. The reader might wonder atthe image until he or she reads "Shelter."The motif is but one indication of the care taken in designing thisbook. Another is the generous use of white space to set off the printed poemsso that each poem stands alone on its page.
Death is but one kind ofseparation. A lifespan inevitablycreates others. What adult does not feelseparated from his or her childhood, happy or not? Sometimes a folded photograph of a father'srare visit is all that remains. "And neglect has put this crease /you seethrough your father's heart, //so, now, it folds / and closes like a card."Immediacy, our presence in the poems, is a hallmark of Mayo's work. In "SquirrelSong," for instance, the reader participates in a recollected child'sbreakfast: "Every day I fed my squirrel before school, / even before my Creamof Wheat / with its little butter pat melting in the middle // like a squaresun."
There is a special kind ofseparation, well known to creative writers, between what one needs to say andthe words one can find to say it. In thepoem "Words," a child's invisible friend is faintly remembered, but "There wereno words for him, no stone,/ no teething of noise with all its / attendantgnashing and attitudes."
Another poem, "Possibilities for aFinal Love Poem," begins this way: "Because you want emotional complexity / anda set of matching metaphors to go with it // which will convey all the nuancesyou need...". The poem proceeds throughone metaphor after another, the cumulative effect proving beyond a doubt the"emotional complexity" which cannot be described directly.
While we cannot presume that the"I" in a poem is always the poet himself speaking, it is safe to say that Mayodraws on his experiences. This isevident not only in the songs of his honest grief, and the images from hisdisrupted childhood, but in the poems about addiction and recovery (Mayo is amental health worker), and poems employing French terms (Mayo is fluent inFrench), and his training in circus arts (Mayo trains on the flying trapeze),and his literary allusions (Mayo holds degrees in English literature fromHarvard and Bennington College). Littlewonder then that this collection of poems, varied in structure and mood andranging over a stunning array of circumstances, is very much a "Thesaurus ofSeparation."
Tim Mayo, Brattleboro author of twoprevious award-winning collections and numerous published poems, will read atthe upcoming Brattleboro Literary Festival.
CharlesButterfield's latest work is "Seeking Parmenter, A Memoir of Place."
From the Back Cover
Tim Mayo's poems explore the taxonomies of loneliness, ofmemory, and of a past deep as a cave. This is a past carved from foster careand stone. A past with a bullet in its head. A realm "where all of winter issleep." Here, fathers are strangers and ancestral ghosts slip ever deeper intothe trees. Only his "Reverie at the Keyboard" can call them forth, call themback, as these are poems that must be spoken out loud while they ask, "whichhome / do I live in? / the one you killed-- / or the one I've made?" And what"makes the bottle mute with cork?" It's in the words that ask such questionsthat Tim Mayo finds his strength; it's in surrendering to the words' answersthat he finds his salvation.
--Meg Kearney,author of Home By Now, winner of the 2010
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