Friday, 30 November 2012

Small Hallows is No Small Feat

Small Hallows
By Gabriel Wainio-Théberge, Published by Baseline Press, 2012

Several weeks back, I was fortunate to enjoy Baseline Press’ Chapbook Launch and Readings at Organic Works here in London. Baseline Press, in its second year of operation, is the project of London poet and current Managing Director of Poetry London, Karen Schindler, featuring beautifully fashioned, hand-bound chapbooks reminding us of the unmatched experience that a tangible, tactile book can bring and that will always remain unmatched by e-books and e-readers.

One of three new titles published by Karen’s imprint this fall is the debut of Gabriel Wainio-Théberge, who had a bit of a bumpy go with the start of his live reading, perhaps, but soon settled down to render his poems in a clear, engaging manner. And now, going through this succinct collection a second time, I wanted to share some highlights and give a little plug for a very young (just graduated high school within the past year) and very capable, rising poet.

Birds, always a favourite of mine, are cited early and often, both in the preface quotation from a Ted Hughes poem and then in the opener, First Raven, where the setting is conveyed with all the serenity that one would find in a painting or pastoral piece of music.

One of the birds in The Event is seen with “a white petal caught between its feathers, / the pads of its claw-toes clutching at nothing, / bright lice still moving over its wings” – describing the exhaustive calm after a chase, and the author’s skill at relaying images that resonate is easily admirable from the onset.

About the prospect of writing on the impending autumn, the poet asks “Will the words / curl up and go brown at the edges, / fall like yellow leaves to the ground / while the trees are still green ...” and later “smoulder, die / and not be transfigured?” (Chronicle I). The poem’s sequel shares some rather unique visions of the continual autumnal theme, where “the cold is a bright and eager schoolboy, / And soon will grow glum and sink in clouded spirals.” And about the wind, “His business is stirring dust, a quarrelsome historian” while “Dust-motes are the flies of autumn.” Walking in this setting, the author, “blindfolded by thoughts” (which usually make us miss the wonder of the present moment), ponders “how I anticipated a single day / In order to understand a season.”

Chronicle 2 closes with 3 footnotes in smaller font which are not mere explanatory as one might expect, though they do just that without the direct intent, but glorious poetic lines where “Wind is a workman-poet, and industrial balladeer,” silent when sprightly as “His frequencies go over the heads of the rooftops. / In some places butterflies are omens.” The giant pine, in the 3rd footnote, “drops its needles / year after year, like skeletal fruit / between the driveway and the window.”

The tender, moving burial of a bird occurs in Anyone want to say a few words, with its riveting prelude opener “’Still’ is not stopped. It is slow, not timeless. / It can rise and fall, like a sleeper’s chest, / like waves on the sea’s sleeping side.”

At the reading, Gabriel spoke a bit about the construction of Wndryn, and when read in its eight couplets on the page, the reader is rewarded as “The asphalt sweats out its heart. A clod of cold / slips down its road throat. Something moves.”

A grandfather’s ashes are placed into paper boats in Disappearance, and the poet’s descriptive prowess serves to bring the earthen to the heavenly; the terrestrial metaphor to a celestial feast of nebulae and light awaiting rebirth. Geology too comes to call in “cliffs / scraped bare of moss by floods, / slopes swallowed in older explosions, / strata like slanting stacks of books.”

The third of three Chronicle entries  serves as the penultimate piece, and the poet, still immersed in the fall, acknowledges that “every season will be shrouded / in not knowing / whether it was worth it” and concludes, by the poem’s end, that “the ambiguous music of the shroud, / the predictability of white skies / and crows” are best left to be what they are and as they are, to be dusted with the translucent snow that brings this brief but wistfully cerebral collection to a close in the chapbook’s final offering.

The poet is clearly well-studied on both the intricacies of nature and the crafting of verse – I felt enlightened on both thanks to Mr. Wainio-Théberge and look forward to seeing how far his gifts will take him.

– Andreas Gripp

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