Thorburn Ages in Memory, Body, Poetry and Jazz
by Andrea McKenzie
If only we could step back through a mirror to have a closer look at our younger selves, while cross-examining and contemplating our present, aging bodies; to have conversations with those who are gone, and understand the inevitability of moving forward.
In Russell Thorburn’s book, Father Tell Me I Have Not Aged, the poems are like slide photos or quick glimpses of the past and other places. The reader is taken into a different age, whether it is younger, older or in another geographical setting. Thorburn’s poems explore fear and love, and an underlying danger exists.
There is a struggle between clinging to impermanent snapshots and mental pictures, and the paradox of the poet’s desire to release these memories. The reels of memory continue to reveal what is alive, even in the hint of death, and bring back those who are dead, acknowledge their death and, in turn, bring back life.
The poems are an entranceway into dreams and memory; there is a longing or regret, and a slant of betrayal in the depth of honesty when resurrecting old lovers and weaving them into the poet’s present, waking consciousness, as seen in “First Love”. The reader is left hanging in-between patches of memory, but the images are clear and alive.
Seasons and nature are prominent. For instance, in the poem “February” Thorburn uses the seasonal landscape to create a delicate and suggestive setting. In the poem, “For Those of Us Who Have Lost Our Jobs” the poet employs snow, and the cold weather to lend a harsher element with the cold biting the spirit. Nature often sets the stage for emotion to say what can’t be expressed otherwise.
The second section begins with the title poem, “Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged”, which allows the poet to step back into the shadows of his childhood. There is also a strong focus on his mother and a yearning to enter her secret, silent world. The poet mirrors himself in his parents, and re-visits his own world and perceptions at various stages of growth.
In the third section, more eros appears and the poet manages to escape into a cinematic world, reflecting real life. The referencing of characters or real actors creates a limitation in these poems. Thorburn is asking the reader to work harder and develop a deeper interest and understanding of specific movies and plot lines. He invites a certain generation of readers. Still, the play by play scenes are melded with the poet’s imagination and interpretation of human themes – love, sex, fear and death.
The last section of the book turns to sophisticated literary references ie. Kafka, Sonnets to Orpheus, and Rilke in “Waiting for the Bus”. The imagery becomes surreal, opening up and slowly leading the reader out of the book, having come through the labyrinth. There is a stronger use of image repetition, such as ‘star-bulbed sky’, as the literary actors exit the stage. Thorburn also experiments with different line structures, such as fragmented couplets, and there is a gradual breaking down of thought and movement. The lines are sparse, creating more space to move, such as in the poems “Last Night on Michigan Street” and “Zeno Remembers”. Throughout the book, the rhythms of his poems ride different movements with a steady heartbeat. There is an unleashing and reigning in, like a jazz tempo.
Thorburn’s poems are about ending, or facing an end; another kind of passage for growing up and growing old, and being thrust into another unknown or kind of death.