Review of Frank Watson’s In the Dark, Soft Earth
André le Mont Wilson
In the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson is one of the more ambitious poetry compilations I have encountered. It is not one book but a collection of ten “books”, or thematic sections, with titles such as “Within the Weeping Woods” and “Beneath the Raven Moon.” The poems in each book or section are often thematically linked with synonymous metaphors or a central image so that the poems flow from one to another, like stream of consciousness. In “Book Seven: Omens”, spirits, phantoms, and shadows occur. Such groupings create a unified whole for each section. This enhances my enjoyment and delight.
Speaking of delight, the delights of In the Dark, Soft Earth are also the full-color art reproductions. Because of the high cost of color printing, it is often cheaper to print poetry/art books with black and white images or with no images at all. I have seen many poetry books with color reproductions so poor that they distract from the poems rather than enhance them. Not so with In the Dark, Soft Earth. The colors pop. Surreal, dreamlike images range from Henri Rousseau’s “The Sleep Gypsy” to Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” Poems are often inspired by images, or the appropriate images are selected for the poems, so that image and text speak to one another in ekphrastic revelry. This is most effective in “Book Eight: An Entrance to the Tarot Garden,” in which each poem is inspired by tarot cards, such as the Rider-Waite tarot cards of 1909 or Bonifacio Bembo’s hand-painted tarot cards of 1441-63. The gold shined so much I wanted to scrape it off my screen. In the Dark, Soft Earth is an entertaining collection of art and poetry. I imagine it in the center of a home on a coffee table and not tucked away on an office shelf. It is a book you want others to read.
Watson displays a wide range of poetic styles from haiku to rhyme to free verse with a high level of creativity, imagination, and execution. I often hear echoes of other poets such as Basho, Langston Hughes, and William Carlos Williams. In a sense, Watson communicates with other poets across time and space. He communicates to poets now and in the future. In his first poem “origins”, he states, “to the poet/there is a love for beauty/in all its/terrifying forms.” He spends the rest of this volume exploring the interstices between all the terrifying forms of beauty he can imagine, delving “between the heavens and the earth”, “between the rocks and water”, “between the rays/of speckled radiation.” The proposition “between” appears in the titles of the sections “Between Time and Space” and “A Dance Between the Light.”
Watson is a poet who digs. He does not stop at the surface. He gets beneath, within, and between things. He reminds me of a child who is fascinated not by the rock, but by the creepy, crawly bugs and worms found under the rock. After reading In the Dark, Soft Earth, I experience synesthesia. I smell loam under my fingernails. The earth is rich, fertile.
André le Mont Wilson is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, and spoken word artist. His work has been included in the anthology, Changing Harm to Harmony (Marin Poetry Center Press, 2015), and many journals, including Mom Egg Review, Not Your Mother's Breast Milk, sPARKLE & bLINK, Wordgathering: A Disability Journal, Ekphrastic Review, Failed Haiku, Not Your Mother's Breast Milk, Page & Spine, Society of Classical Poets, sPARKLE & bLINK.