And For the Mouth A Flower, by J. Tarwood, was recently reviewed by Sonja James in The Journal. Her full writing is shown below and can also be found in its original formatting here.
A review by Sonja James
J. Tarwood’s “And For the Mouth a Flower” is the latest poetry collection by one of the nation’s most intriguing poets. In this slim volume, Tarwood writes of family, childhood, the natural world, and his travels throughout East Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. These are poems that grace us with the elegant interplay between the mundane and the exotic. The poet reaches deep within himself while simultaneously searching the globe for his material. These poems are a grand and explicit dialogue between self and world.
The opening poem, “Come,” is an open invitation to a deceased sibling: “Visit me.” The poet speaks with poignant clarity as he summons his dead brother:
You can talk if you like…
You can be quiet too,
remembering that dead end
on the Illinois shore
where Mom and Dad made you a home…
Dying young, you settled
for being me. But I’m not
forever either. We can
haunt the world together.
In “Home for the Holidays,” Tarwood criticizes his father while inventing himself: “Dad had no backbone to spare./I took mine from a squirrel.” The poem concludes with an aphoristic aside: “The wise heart is sad and slow.”
“A Drinking Man” is yet another family poem. This poem celebrates the poet’s father, who liked to drink hard spirits: “Bundled good, he drank/gifts to shut up his own,/each cold shot a threshold/to yet another.”
In “Learning to Read,” Tarwood evokes a childhood memory of the Dick and Jane primers once used in elementary schools. He thus records the magic moment of understanding when the book came alive for him: “What hocus pocus, then/triggered book to talk/till I at last/had to talk back?”
In the subsequent poem, “Balloons,” the poet pays homage to those common childhood toys. He first categorizes them, describing both carnival balloons and parade balloons. He then describes how he once tried to save a balloon: “I stashed one once/in my top drawer./I thought it was my soul./It kept shriveling up//though air was everywhere.”
Not just a poet of family and childhood, Tarwood is also an exceptional nature poet. “Kingfisher” is a nature poem of profound beauty. Here the poet describes a kingfisher: “Sunshine floats in the flow,/melting gold, when a sudden/glint of jewelry IDs the bird,/green willow, blue water, melting gold.”
In the later poems, “Bogota” and “Havana,” Tarwood celebrates these two cities he has visited. Another travel poem, “Education in Yemen,” chronicles an experience he had as a teacher in Yemen when a wild hawk flew against the window: “A hawk swoops into my classroom window.” He and the children watch the bird peck at the glass until it finally tires and flies away “soar[ing] off on a sudden thermal,/shriveling into nothing/as we head back to words.”
Perhaps the loveliest poem in the volume is the love poem, “Blue of You.” With passion, Tarwood writes: “To think of you/is like/a horizon of violins/or a jasmine discovering stoicism:/ blue lingers/a soul/a silence.”
As a whole, J. Tarwood’s “And For the Mouth a Flower” is a stunning collection of poems chronicling events triggered by memories of Tarwood’s unusual life experiences. These are passionate poems that overwhelm with their dignity and respect for life. As a fierce master of human perception, Tarwood has created a poetics of vibrant insight into the human condition.
Sonja James is the author of The White Spider in My Hand (New Academia Publishing: Scarith Books, 2015) and Calling Old Ghosts to Supper (Finishing Line Press, 2013).
Poets are invited to send recent books for review consideration. Contact Sonja James at firstname.lastname@example.org