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Bill Waters' Review of In the Dark, Soft Earth
On Frank Watson’s In the Dark, Soft Earth
 
In the Dark, Soft Earth: Poetry of Love, Nature, Spirituality, and Dreams by Frank Watson. Plum White Press, 2020. RRP: $19.99 Pb; $29.99 Hc. 217pp. ISBN: 978-1-939832-20-7 Pb; 978-1-939832-19-1 Hc.
 
With a subtitle that promises poems of love, nature, spirituality, and dreams, Frank Watson’s book In the Dark, Soft Earth promises a lot — and delivers, in abundance.
 
Structurally, the book is divided into 10 distinct volumes — books within the book, so to speak — and each contains anywhere from 4 poems to 28, for a grand total of 160. In addition, images of artwork by Magritte, Picasso, Kandinsky, and others are interspersed throughout, a number of which serve as direct inspiration for specific poems.
 
In the Dark, Soft Earth takes its title from an elegiac poem of the same name, which is located in the volume called “Omens”:
 
on green and broken sod
the trail grows cold
in morning frost
 
at the bottom of the forest
where I have come to rest at last
 
so still, the universe
has barely cracked
and the grass stays silent
 
leaves pile wet
where words have failed
 
the green turns
hidden in the shade
to seek new roots
among the glades
 
where I recline
on a hill of fresh cut grass
 
daisies in the air
the cries of wild birds
 
and I wait for you
in this life and the next
 
An atmospheric expression of love beyond mortal life, this poem — one of many on the multifaceted subject of love —  evokes a reflective mood with a tone reminiscent of poems by Emily Dickinson.
 
The poem “blood & bones”, from the volume called “Between Time and Space”, also references “the soft earth” as it too considers time after mortal life — and before it, as well:
 
from another age
of blood and bones
now buried
in the soft earth
 
I have lived
a hundred lives
 
and will die
a hundred times more
 
This is an example of the author’s exploration of spirituality: in this case, what may be described as a lyrical contemplation of reincarnation.
 
Overall, though, the poems in this book tend more toward the symbolic and the abstract than the descriptive — which works particularly well for the author’s poems related to dreams. For example, “driftwood”, from the volume called “Within the Weeping Woods”:
 
 
floating driftwood
and the shipwreck
of frozen dreams
 
marked by rocks
awash on shoals—
never known
to mortal souls
 
burnt like embers
burnt like the sea—
alone in time
and dead to me
 
The figurative language of this bleak sketch is complemented by a judicious use of rhyme, an element of the author’s poetic style that recurs throughout the book to add touches of musicality and drama. “Shoals / souls” and “sea / me” — combined with the repetition of “burnt like” and a cadence that moves from unregulated to structured — help give the poem a sense of finality as heavy as a tombstone.
 
And more abstract still, here is “intricate forest”, a dreamscape from the volume called “Beneath the Raven Moon”:
 
his beard grows
into a forest
where all the philosophers
can thread
their spinning tales
 
he builds
an intricate kite
that carries him away
 
the raven
guides his feet
on a long night
through the forest
of restless sleep
 
Nature is visible throughout this book — as the “forest / of restless sleep”, above, and in many other instances. In “The Plum Garden”, from the volume called “Stories Before I Sleep”, the Garden of Eden makes an appearance as nature intertwines with human nature in a formal sonnet:
 
They find a garden lush with plum-air scents
As spring sun filters through the dew-dust leaves,
And subtle sighs arise while fruit ferments,
For Eden enters Earth when minds conceive.
 
Within the garden deep an oak tree grows,
Preserving plum and fruit from sudden squalls
With roots that sink in soil where winds oppose,
To keep the flowers fresh as flurries fall.
 
Emerging from primordial chaos fair,
This Earth now holds the veins where plum wine flows:
Though autumn atrophies and winter wears
These holy roots renew, reach deep, and grow.
 
As nothing lies between these fruit-filled trees
So love fulfills with endless mysteries.
 
Of course there is much overlap among the themes of love, spirituality, dreams, and nature. In fact, it could be argued that the poem “moonlit ecstasy”, from the volume “Beneath the Raven Moon”, combines all four!
 
in my dreams
I build a castle
where the shadows dance
 
visions written
in the fading light
of fireflies
 
kissing her eyelids
in the distant bed
of dried up tears
 
fancies fall
like fragments
of broken stars
 
In the Dark, Soft Earth amply covers the themes promised in its subtitle — and because this body of work readily extrapolates from the particular to the universal, the overarching subject of this book is the human experience, with all of its fantasies and fears, wonders and worries, mysteries, musings, and so much more.
 
Note: In the Dark, Soft Earth will be of especial interest to lovers of tarot, because volume 8, “An Entrance to the Tarot Garden”, offers 22 poems inspired by the Major Arcana and illustrated by the popular Rider-Waite deck of 1910 and the classic 15th-century Visconti-Sforza deck.
 
 
—Bill Waters, poet. His work has appeared in Modern Haiku, American Tanka, Bacopa Literary Review, and other journals.