Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain

Harbour, 2013

Reviewed by Carl Watts

Throughout numerous collections, chapbooks and anthology appearances, Russell Thornton has engaged with a loosely unified group of themes. Whether one reads the early nature/culture explorations of The Hewed Out Light (1984), the verse travelogue A Tunisian Notebook (2002), or his more recent work, spirituality, sexuality, Near-Eastern mysticism, British Columbia and Mediterranean landscapes, and family psychodrama emerge as Thornton’s topics of choice. It may seem something of a change of pace, then, for his latest collection, Birds, Metals, Stones, & Rain (shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award and nominated for the Raymond Souster Award and Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), to be organized around a clear list of concepts. In the epigraph, Thornton’s titular elements trade places with sets such as “mother, father, daughter, son” and “birth, death, heaven, hell,” anticipating both the more schematic nature of the collection and the individual poems’ combinations of the concrete and the abstract. Is this collection, then, with its guiding catalogue and seemingly explicit goals, a more rigorously structured departure from Thornton’s lightly formalist explorations of broadly human themes?

This review is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Carl Watts is a PhD candidate in English at Queen’s University, where he is writing his dissertation on ethnic and national identities in Canadian literature. His poetry has appeared in CV2 and Grain and is forthcoming in The Dalhousie Review and The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2014; his academic writing has been published in Canadian Poetry and Studies in Canadian Literature.