canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Almost Forgotten…
by Tom Henihan
Frog Hollow Press, 2002

by TDR Staff

The ellipse in the title of Tom Henihan’s first chapbook (three earlier full-length collections have been published) is not of the indecisive variety. Instead, the poetry contained in Almost Forgotten… suggests that the ellipse is meant as a reaching towards or after; there is also an element of timelessness, that the ellipse comments on a poetry unelapsed and outside of time. Finally, it signifies pause or a moment of reflection. “Eyes of Love” is typical: “Above these streets/ where the eyes of love/ have always been waiting…” So does “Roots:” “If you ask me where I live/ I will point to the threshold/ between sleep and death.” The only thing that’s mentioned in the past tense in Almost Forgotten… is a dead love affair that links all of the poems together.

Henihan writes in a lyric mode. His subjects aren’t those of popular culture, but rather grander stuff like longing, loss, and love. Despite the character of these subjects he mostly avoids the ever-present “I.” These poems aren’t egocentric odes, they’re observational and often concerned with natural and nocturnal imagery. “Succour” demonstrates Henihan’s preoccupations nicely: “The fog officiates at the funeral ceremony/ of footsteps and shadows./ You have left a wound on the world./ The mouths that you kissed are thirsty/ while the moon passes its cups/ above their heads.”

Like the aforementioned, Henihan’s love poems are leavened with enough darkness and specificity to render them convincing; in the book’s eponymous end poem, “Almost Forgotten,” he writes: “My hands have trembled so often/ but they have never abdicated. I have never let myself become/ skillful at conjuring dreams/ without leaves or rain.” In other words, the memory of his lover will always be tainted with loss.

Quiet and detached, the poems again mirror the implied remove of the title’s ellipse. The poet treads carefully between devastation (in this case, lost love) and the distance of memory that places the affair in perspective; this perspective is itself tied metaphorically to nature, for the poems’ take on the finished romance is always tempered by images of rain and nighttime. The resultant mix makes for some powerful elegiac love poetry.

His line lengths are short; there are no extended riffs on love or nature, just close-cropped line breaks that in themselves mirror the ended affair- and one can’t help but think that this affair wasn’t a mutual happening. Word choice is also kept plain; the poet’s language doesn’t strain to elaborate heights, and this is appropriate. After all, this isn’t a whirlwind romance-in-progress, it’s a revisiting.

The chapbook itself is beautiful; with a cobalt cover to reflect the melancholic properties of the collection and a labour-intensive letterpress process to stamp each letter on the page, Frog Hollow’s production values are very high and somewhat mitigate the $25.00 cost of this limited-edition chappie. Such small-press activities are the lifeblood of this country’s literature and the book under review is but one of their impressive efforts that are deserving of greater attention.

TDR staff is a reviewer who wishes to remain anonymous.







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