Review by Claire Farley
Ruth Thompson’s Woman With Crows is a journey. The poems in this collection are honest, salt of the earth kind of poems about life’s complexity and beauty. This is poetry that gets its hands dirty and delights in the mess. After a hiatus of twenty years, Thompson returned to writing poetry in 2001 and published a chapbook of her work, Here Along Cazenovia Creek, in 2011. Woman With Crows is her first full-length collection and it is a bountiful offering. It was a finalist for the Room of Her Own Foundation’s To the Lighthouse Prize in 2010 and includes award-winning poems. It is the strength of spirit behind Thompson’s lyrical verse that deserves celebration. She is a woman writer for women writers; there is a clear sense of feminine community in her work that is as pragmatic as it is mythic. Reading her collection is an empowering experience, with poems like “Journeying West” offering us the wisdom to leave behind the “things we can do without” and confront our lives free of the fetters of insecurity and misguided nostalgia.
In Woman With Crows, Thompson approaches both living and writing honestly and seeks out breath, play, and pattern organically in her work. Her muse speaks to her frankly and she abides,
She says You work your feet down deep in my mud
suck up that ripe swamp smell of life and death
and when leopards come for you—
speak that, honey. Speak that.
And the collection has all the lushness and bravery that her muse demands. She celebrates the seasons, both of nature and of life; she writes about aging with freshness, as a spiritual as well as a physical journey. Thompson explores a rediscovery of the body in age that is so full that the richness of her tone drips off the page like the “molasses sunlight” of late November in “November by Cazenovia Creek,” a poem that also appears in her chapbook.
Leaf by leaf, stem by stem, wing
by wing, light releases
the thing it holds. Releases
the cups of my lifted hands—
spotted, knot-boned, odd
as an old branch Thumb joints
Woman With Crows is also a striking collection because of the personal mythology that develops throughout. The allusions are vast without feeling strained and they paint spirituality and culture with the wide brush of a poet who is as much an intellectual as a lyricist. Her dialogue with the sources that she draws from feels intimate, and at times surprising, like “Jill and the Beanstalk” written as liberation from an abusive relationship. Thompson pulls from the shelf of Buddhist and Hindu traditions for her big stew of mythos, from Grimm fairytales, Greek myth and legend. And that’s just what this collection is, a big hearty stew to savour and enjoy, slowly at times or ravaging for a poem’s sensual pleasure or as a remedy for those times that our minds winter uninspired.
Ruth Thompson grew up in California and received a BA from Stanford and a PhD from Indiana University. She has been an English professor, librarian, college dean, and yoga teacher in Los Angeles. She now lives in Hilo, Hawai’i, where she teaches writing, meditation, and yoga. Her poems have won the New Millennium Writings Poetry Award and the Harper Palate Milton Kessler Memorial Prize, among others. Her website is http://www.ruththompson.net/
Thursday, June 19, 2014 – 7:30 pm – POETRY FLASH SERIES @ MOE’S BOOKS (2476 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA) “Three Bodies, Many Voices” – with poets Michelle Wing (Body On the Wall) and Tania Pryputniewicz (November Butterfly, forthcoming)