Thursday, April 21, 2011
Somerville Poet’s Book Selected as a “Must-Read” by the Mass Book Awards
By Bert Stern
Triage, by Tam Lin Neville, Cervena Barva Press, Somerville, MA, 2010
Tam Lin’s book, Triage, was recently selected as a “Must-Read” by the Mass Book Awards. She is a Somerville poet published by Cervena Barva, a Somerville press.
Many of the poems revolve around her neighborhood, Union Square.
The chastened compassion of the poems in Triage is strikingly original and at the
same time, a precise rendering of a feeling common to our times: the daily witnessing of a suffering we can’t relieve but can only try to take in with our steadiest eye. “Late Nursery Rhyme,” the opening lyric, is also the book’s “argument”:
The stars have fallen
from their glade
and deep in the long grass
lie winking in the shade.
Come with me to gather them –
Some dark, some diamond.
When we have done,
climb and wind this string of beads
through limbs and golden leaves.
And who can say, when the last star
has faded out, what these strange garlands are,
that once were light and now are char?
The exquisite poignancy of “Late Nursery Rhyme” establishes the book’s theme but represents only one of its many voices. The company Neville describes includes a manic-depressive women in the “psych ward,” a street person who “wanted the leaves to care for me,” an army wife who runs a care center for disabled vets, and many more.
Some of these poems are about Neville’s own Somerville neighborhood, where one family, when power goes out on the block, brings out a case and makes a holiday of the event: “Drink the beer before it grows warm.” In another, “Ghost Tenant,” a dead woman reflects back on her eccentric life in a house full of junk, and again the poet’s eye offers of kind of healing that was denied to the woman in life.
While many of these poems deal with dark subjects, they take place in an extended natural reality in which sun and moon shine, leaves fall, snow flakes grace a moonless street. Such flashes of beauty hint at a larger harmony that frames our human predicament.