The Matter of the Casket, Poems

by Thom Ward.
(c) 2007. CustomWords, 81 pgs.
ISBN: 9781933456690.

Reviewed by Grace Cavalieri

When I asked Thom Ward about this book, he said he might be called a misanthrope, but that there was much to be misanthropic about. The truth in any sentence is always after the “but,” and it is all in how the poet manages that, whether it matters or not.

These poems are the funniest saddest use of sensitive absurdities in print right now. If poetry is the place for ego, it can also be a place for accomplished feeling in place of ego. Nevertheless the Poet’s personality inevitably comes through and here is writing of stubborn fidelity to the things we cannot change — the essential facts of life that can only be stood on their heads. What else can we do with them?

This is no amateur. It takes a seasoned writer with a dead reckoning to wreck language and make it new. Someone who can quote Blake and Herrick but chooses to say peek-a-boo instead. Read the voice of a man who impeaches the ordinary and measures things in a fun house mirror, showing our institutions and beliefs in a 21st century strobe light.

In an age devoted to poets dreaming themselves into pretty pictures, it is a small miracle that anyone has the courage to ridicule with so much loving energy. Although Ward would not call it that. The book begins with a poem of a soul in an immense universe (which includes eternity by the way) looking for infinite entries into the pearly gates.

We thought the world had gone to sleep yet here comes this book of our rituals: marriage, science, faith…spoken with the spirit that is the intellect of poetry, and so the book breathes gladly, page after page. Thom Ward writes as if he’s the first person on earth, and as if no one is watching.

Billy Collins goes for the tragic and comic in a soufflé…Ward doesn’t mind if it’s pot roast. He writes “on the contrary” poems: Betrayal, loss, lust, anxiety, hypocrisy, all the lovelies. Well I’ll take them held up to Ward’s humanity any day.

If tragedy is merely failed comedy, as one pundit said, Thom Ward fails neither. If you want to be exiled into fresh thought with a good companion. Here’s The Matter of the Casket.

Unwellness (pg. 25)

Sensing a bout of unwellness Pill took a woman.
Heels first, of course, with a glass of water as long as
the woman’s legs. Sometimes for unwellness Pill
took two or three middle-aged men, brawny
forearms and delts; but the disconcerting side-
effects, namely, an icy petulance, made Pill feel
rather unpill. The time-release efficacy of
adolescents was always a boon, but they came
fortified with hormones. Better to suffer unwellness
than a rash of zits. Young children? Far too syrupy,
and God didn’t yet come in a bottle. So Pill took a
woman to ward off unwellness, happy with her
shoes, unhappy with her hair, between
menstruation and menopause, sealed-for-your-
protection, extra strength….

Grace Cavalieri is a poet and a playwright. She produces “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress” for public radio.