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Nancy Owen Nelson's Review of In the Dark, Soft Earth

One should read Frank Watson’s In the Dark, Soft Earth slowly, relishing each page, each poem, each visual image, for the collection is a series of meditations evoked from a variety of paintings by such artists as Seurat, Magritte, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Henri Rousseau. and others.  The paintings haunt the landscape of the poems, setting their tone; the poet often extends the visual image of color and other images from the visual into language. 

The overall theme of the collection reflects an awareness of the notion of quantum physics—interconnections and reconnections of all existence into one. Poet moves through seasons, dreams, night, darkness into light. Images disassemble, reassemble, collected into a whole that only slightly suggests its original, such as in “sunflower seeds”:  “I find the sunflower seeds/to my thoughts/that break this night/into a thousand lights/of kissing stars.”
The title poem (for me) best represents the method and ethos of the collection—tension between green growth and decay, between the beauty of nature “daisies in the air/and cries of wild birds”.  This concept is often portrayed throughout in the transition from “this life to the next.”

For this reader, the poems recall T. S. Eliot, with the drowning voices in “Prufrock” or, from The Wasteland, “Death By Water,” with the poem “hanged man,” or “omens”: “there were bodies/many bodies/above and below the streets/and all were one with the city,” not unlike Eliot’s “Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,/A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/I had not thought death had undone so many.”
The last section, “Stories Before I Sleep,” is an appropriate ending for this collection because of the internal tensions between sleep and awakening, dreams and reality, darkness and light.  The poems point toward eternity--in “sculpture,” “will your/skin/last a thousand years?” or in “Bohemia,” “this song of the pipe/has never stopped playing.”
Two poems in this last section provide possible “final thoughts” on the poet’s journey through this universe of energy and forces.  “Dave King” ends with the lines “there’s nothing to fear/when the clock strikes/and heaven takes us home.  The final poem, “Cold Wind,” however, leaves us with the possibility of oblivion:
For Death has always had his shade
As light begins to fade
In the smoke that’s now her face,
A wind that leaves no trace.
In this reader’s view, the meditative journey of In the Dark, Soft Earth allows readers to find their own way to meaning within pages which take us through the vagaries of life, the beauties of art, nature and language.  It is a journey well worth the taking.

Nancy Owen Nelson
author of  My Heart Wears No Colors  and  Portals: A Memoir in Verse

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