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Vanessa Shields' Book Review for In the Dark, Soft Earth

Book Review for In the Dark, Soft Earth
By Frank Watson
Plum White Press, © 2020
231 pages
Review by Vanessa Shields

     In the Dark, Soft Earth is not a poetry book for the faint of heart or the short of
time. No, this collection of engaging poetry spans over 200-pages and seamlessly
weaves together themes of love, loss, eros, nature, time, yearning, magic and more in a
dynamic and dramatic confluence of poetic storytelling. It is meant to be devoured and
savoured – swirled around in the soul via healthy sips then put down so its impact can
be fully had to deepen into the marrow of the bone. Poetry is meant to thicken life
through words, to whip up whimsy, to conjure connections, to powerfully provoke.
Watson’s poetry does all of this with grace and patience. It’s in it for the long haul
because what it grasps are topics necessary for the mind and soul’s enrichment – and it
takes time to truly develop and appreciate this enrichment.
     Organized into ten books (sections), each thoughtfully named by a word-guide
that gently nudges the reader into a mini-collection of poems that then dive into a
distinct territory. Watson’s poetry is accessible, precise, romantic, tragic, sweet,
whimsical and breathy. It exists like small bursts of weather onto the white page and
offers the reader a hand into the myriad word-coves each poem creates. From the
wreckage of broken hearts to mini-odes to nature to erotic trysts gleeming with
sensuality, Watson knows how to make metaphors matter and make descriptive
language feel like a feather tickling the lips of your mind’s mouth as it reads along.
     In the Dark, Soft Earth dances into realms of spirituality and magic, darkness and
light, damage and delight – and each section is swathed in the colours of incredible and
dynamic art that helps visually stimulate and enhance the reader’s experience. The art
adds a layer of interaction with the poetry that pushes the words into the painter’s brush
stroke and the artist’s expressions of colour and lines...symmetry and rhythm. The art is
an added pleasure in the holistic journey of the collection.
     Watson’s poetry is provocative, as all great poetry should be. Whether he’s
waxing about the intimacy of drinking tea or taking his aim at the tarot, he weaves his
inky word wand across land, time and space with rhythms that both fondle and frolic
with the senses. Some poems feel like brief interludes with a thought while others grovel
deeper and ruminate. At times, it feels like several poems in a row are woven together.
A kind of snowball effect of words gathering and tumbling into each other where the
words in one poem drip into the next, extending like a branch and offering a different,
yet still enchanting form of commentary on the theme. This makes the poems feel
familiar – a feat that is not easily accomplished.
     Indeed, Watson’s In the Dark, Soft Earth is a mountain of a collection – but the
mountain is inviting, beautiful, horrifying and necessary, and therefore, a must-climb, an
absolute adventure to be had. Can one climb a mountain in one day? It is possible.
However, to take one’s time, to get stuck in the crannies, to waver and hold tight, to
grasp on for dear life and breathe...and then do it all again the next day, well, this surely
creates a world of difference in the experience. This is why Watson’s mountain of poetry
should be respected with time and reflection. To be read at one’s leisure and then to the
call of a needful ache, to be tossed onto a corner table, to be lifted again on the dawn’s
edge while sipping tea.
     Though his words create the tarot poem ‘high priest (hierophant)’ (pg.176):

     “...in stained glass
     he sees through the prism
     of sewn-up tears

     he has never
     stopped writing
     even in death

     and the roots
     of his words
     have spread
     through centuries
     of cracked earth…”

Watson may as well be writing for himself...a high poet, whose words will spread over
centuries sewing up tears in reader’s souls now and beyond death.

Vanessa Shields has made her home, her family and her work life flourish in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Her passion for writing was discovered at a very young age through the vein of writing in a journal. Her first book, Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy – A Memoir, was published by Black Moss Press in 2011 to rave reviews. In April 2013, Shields edited a poetry anthology entitled, Whisky Sour City (Black Moss Press). I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press), her first book of poetry, was published in January 2014, and had its third printing in 2015. Look At Her (Black Moss Press) launched in September 2016, and went into its second printing in December 2016. In 2017, Shields was part of a Group of Seven poets published in an anthology about the history of Windsor, entitled Because We Have All Lived Here (Black Moss Press). In June 2018, the chapbook Feminism: Revisit, Revise, Revolutionize: A Two-part Harmony was published by the League of Canadian Poets’ Feminist Caucus with Shields as co-editor/introduction writer. She writes a monthly blog for the League of Canadian Poets on being a writing parent. She is passionate about promoting poetry and the writing life, and is often on a jury (or two!) for major awards and/or contests. She has self-published a collection of children’s poetry entitled From A to Ziffery Zanks with Windsor illustrator Glen Hawkes. This collection launches in the fall of 2019. A new collection of poetry, (working title) thimble will be published by Palimpsest Press in 2021.


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