The Stations of the Day
by Michael W. Thomas
33 poems, 61 pages
Publisher: Black Pear Press, 2019
To order: Amazon
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
Poet, novelist, dramatist and musician, Michael Wyndham Thomas, is an Irish-British writer. He lived in Canada for a number of years but now lives in Worcestershire, England. From 2004 to 2009 he was poet-in-residence at the annual Robert Frost Poetry Festival, Key West, Florida. He has published on the poetry of Robert Frost and W. S. Merwin, the fiction of Elizabeth Bowen and William Trevor and the drama of Joe Orton. He is a regular contributor to The London Magazine and a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement.
Despite the cover photograph, stations and trains are hardly ever hinted at other than in the title of the collection and in a few lines in certain poems where the mode of transport is more often than not horses, bikes and cars. The title is more to do with marking time, it is not a reference to a string of train stations.
The poems in this collection are largely reflective seen through the lens of time and memory. Several poems bear titles which are the names of streets or places and in many cases Thomas specifies the years to which they refer. This helps us to place them in context. Precision with time is also matched by precision with regard to vocabulary. It is clear that these are poems that have been carefully worked on in an attempt to find just the right word to fit the description. Where else would you read about ‘feeder roads looping round / the end of the Sixties,’ hear ‘the last scritch of a cartwheel,’ watch ‘a donkey / snuggle its colour into a fence’ or describe an ‘evening sun’ that has the appearance of being ‘caught among loose change / in a jigging hand’?
Many of these poems can be read on more than one level. Unpacking them is part of the enjoyment and some of them contain surprising gifts. In ‘Bikes,’ for example, mention of the month and the year to which it refers gives us a clue as to what is coming next. It is July 1969 and the scene is set for two boys to ride their bikes through ‘the molten ways of housing schemes’ but there is ‘no freedom for the man up on the moon, / no change of gear or bush-grassed gulley.’ The adjectives that follow maintain that link between the boys on the ground and the man on the moon who ‘coped as best he could with ice-white silence, left / a flag to be unloved by July breeze.’
In ‘Shrawley Cross’ Thomas writes about travelling people. Even though they are the subject of his poem, he tells us in the opening line that ‘They left just before you got here.’ In effect, the poem is about imagining the presence of something that is conspicuous by its absence. These travelling people return to us in another poem simply titled ‘Travellers’ after ‘the high skirt of midsummer’:
Bits of them appear
with the middle days of October;
a bassinette against a wheel
tarped horses posted up and back,
a pot to simmer the damps
of another year going.
Thomas revels in the country lanes of his childhood, seeking out the ones that are not even on the map, observes small happenings in hedgerows, records the distilled details of past and present lives and expounds upon the domesticity of ‘Saturday Evening Houses in Summer’ – a title that could almost befit a painting.
Thomas is acutely aware of the passage of time and writes unflinchingly about his own demise. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Harbours Hill with its arresting opening sentence ‘One day I shall return to Harbours Hill / and die.’ I can’t help feeling that it is also referenced in the mysteriously elusive poem ‘the slowing of your blood’ which comprises section V of a sequence called ‘Endpapers’. Here he encounters a donkey on the road and is reminded that someone once said ‘on the way from morning to his bespoke end / he found himself of a sudden / in the middle of a deep dark wood.’ There is snow in this poem and I am reminded, rightly or wrongly, of Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ even though the encounter with the donkey is on the road until, that is, we reach the poem’s appointed end:
You look into his eyes and he
looks into yours.
And now there is no road.
The collection closes with a sequence of poems in which Feste, Olivia’s jester in Twelfth Night, more fool than clown, reveals what Shakespeare did not set down about some of the characters in his play. The conversational style is engaging. To end this review, I will leave you with the third section of ‘Feste Packs’ which I am quoting in full:
A moment’s work when you have nothing more
than one change of jerkin and hose to roll
beneath your arm, odd bits of maying rhyme
and flash quibble to tuck inside your head.
I might, while daylight holds, take one last tour
of Olivia’s lush parts: the spinney
where I’d sleep under last night’s tavern-load,
the park where I’d sing death to come away
and death would snort and cry, not likely, boy,
you’ve years tied to your tin-pot minstrelsy
before my appetites alight on you.
Forget that. The terrace, then, I’ll stand there
a few vague moments. Nothing I love more
than colonnades with sunlight failing west.