What the Badger Said by Tom Cull
Baseline Press, 2013 ISBN 978-0-9880819-6-3
Poetry London Workshop Facilitator and Western University Professor Tom Cull makes his chapbook debut with What the Badger Said, and, much like his effervescent personality, Cull’s poems are ripe with wit and playful mirth. That’s not to imply that this poet doesn’t have something serious to say – like on death, for instance, in Tractor, where Cull turns a funeral upside down, imploring mourners not to mourn but to celebrate life in a gluttonous gathering and to dance as the deceased’s ashes are shot over a river by a potato gun.
In Spring Brood, a familiar father-son dynamic emerges – bird-doting son juxtaposed with gun-toting dad hell-bent on ridding his property of the “pests.” Cull is capable, in a way few poets are, of taking what one would expect to be sombre, depressing material and giving it balance through authentic dialogue and a believable internal thought process that’s revealed and which lightens the mood without sacrificing the piece’s content. The reader is also left much more informed about specific kinds of birds, all the while being blessed with the spectrum of emotions that the author is able to instill. And as for his descripts, Cull can convey them in the finest fashion:
“The cowbirds and grackles are back.
Iridescent blue in the sun,
their calls blat the belligerent optimism
of a throttled reed instrument.”
This is poetry able to make a direct connection – “Auscultation: Plunder Verse” grabbed my attention right away being that I was born with a heart murmur which causes problems now and again and Cull’s definitions of words and his layout of verse in this offering kept me absorbed in the text.
A variety of animals assume all-too-human characteristics and social practices (especially as they relate to being a poet) in Choosing the Animal Laureate. It is in this piece that the answer to “what the badger said” is revealed in its brief, funny, and very direct manner. One can see both CanLit and the poetry “scene” being parodied and some creatures may appear reminiscent of bards living or otherwise: biting, philosophical, and all in good fun.
Cull, though, is fully competent in adapting a solemn tone without any humourous injection – i.e., in Show and Tell, a kind of funereal antithesis of the aforementioned Tractor, where “The child in the spotted dress / hides behind the coffin and the bruises / fade yellow.”
In “Crepuscular,” the human characters do a bit of a reversal from Choosing the Animal Laureate in that they’ve adopted animal traits – fish-like, bird-esque, and most notable and specifically, those of a beaver and then a majestic creature of the sea:
“Back in the pool, the boy
puts his small hand on the flutter board
cut in the shape of a ray.
His mother beckons,
she is thin as a rail
but has eyes on the top of her head.”
The collection closes with On the Sale of My Farm, citing lines from Robert Frost which are adroitly interspersed throughout. The result is a moulding of two voices seemingly telling one tale of loss and a forlorn habitat.
The only regret for me with regards to What the Badger Said is that the excellent illustration in the middle of the chapbook by Patrick Cull (the poet’s brother) doesn’t adorn the front cover (which would have really stood out amid the red-brick colour of the cover stock) and might have made for a more enticing exterior. Nevertheless, as with all of Baseline Press’ releases thus far, the chapbook’s beauty is more than apparent with French flaps that provide a pleasant added weight to this handcrafted volume and a classy, beautiful flyleaf that further exhibits publisher Karen Schindler’s exquisite taste.
Do not miss an opportunity to hear Tom Cull present these and other poems to a live audience – you’ll laugh, ponder, and remain engaged throughout the experience as you will in the reading of this distinguished, debut collection of verse.
For book ordering information, please visit http://www.baselinepress.ca/chapbooks_content.php
– Andreas Gripp