Thomas Moore’s new collection of poems, “Red Stone Fragments,” builds on the approach the former poet laureate of Belfast took in his previous books. His poems, it occurred to me this time, are not just clever, well-framed observations of nature, downtown, human oddities and deep memories — they’re witnessings.

Everything he observes is making changes, either in the world or inside himself or both, and the poems bear witness to the spiritual nature of each transaction. I can’t remember him using the word “spiritual,” but on the other hand his dog’s name is Rumi (the Shakespeare of Islamic poetry in the view of many scholars) and there’s that kind of feeling in lines like this from “Curving into Fall”:

 

… I dig up the iris bulbs

 

and give them away, too much to weed

and divide. We’ve passed the equinox.

I feel the annal of winter in north breezes.

 

“The annal of winter” — the north breezes somehow record the poet’s own humbling experience of winter. And at the end of the poem, he’ll testify to that incomprehensible story of deep time: “I’ll drink a whiskey to that, as we curve / into the continuum, not looking back.”

You get this same kind of awe in remembrances of his own past (“Persian Lunches” is a vivid re-creation of a distant moment in an Iranian market), in heart-striking art (“Hartley’s ‘Katahdin’”), and in everyday nature (“Wild Turkeys”: “They stretch and bounce to reach / the barberries  like thieving boys / under an apple tree”).

The trick is, these are not just remembrances and observations, but records of small, or sometimes large epiphanic explosions of feeling and insight. In the title poem, chunks of stone picked up long ago in Turkey, now sitting at home in vessels acquired in Iran, hold direct connections to St. Paul. “Here are red rocks / from the road to the beach where Paul // boarded the boat for Miletos and Patara.” Profound suffering (Paul will later be beheaded, and martyred) and its cosmic implications are contained and still living inside the red stone fragments. The poem witnesses — does not explain — the deep sense of that fact.

A poem is both a record (like the annals in the wind) and a detonator of sudden contact with inner realities, including the realities of the spirit unfolded by St. Paul himself. Thomas Moore, one of the most skilled poets we have in Maine right now, is a master of noticing those realities in everything from a distant memory of Turkey to gardening to a walk down Main Street, Belfast at 5:30 a.m., and giving living breath to them. He is an invaluable witness to the way we experience life, particularly in these weird times (see the book’s section “The Region of Lies”).

Thomas Moore lives in Belfast, and is retired from teaching at Maine Maritime Academy. He won a Pushcart Prize for poetry in 2018. His previous books are “The Bolt-Cutters,” “Chet Sawing” and “Saving Nails.”

“Red Stone Fragments” is available from Moon Pie Press.

 

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].


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