There’s a simple, touching, anecdotal quality to Nature Echo, Thelma Barlow Blaxall’s second in a series of poetry collections. Utilizing predominantly natural imagery — trees, wind, birds, grass — Blaxell explores painful issues (molestation, physical abuse, widowhood) along with more pleasant episodes (sending quilts to grandchildren, buying a Christmas tree). Often, she makes a valiant effort to examine those times when we grope for answers in the midst of isolation, confusion, frustration and despair, gleaning whatever wisdom she can.
Blaxall achieves dramatic impact chiefly by content, rather than purposeful use of poetic instruments such as strategic line breaks, distilled language, fresh detail, and musically lucid diction. In poem after poem, Blaxall seems to be teetering on the edge of the exceptional, if she had just pushed a little harder.
For example, in two poems (“Shane” and “The Tractor Boy”) written in homage to a sweet young man who was taken, suddenly and tragically, you can feel the ache of her loss. Blaxall deftly avoids lapsing into the maudlin or manipulative.
But the best poetry comes from resisting the need to quickly reach a resolution on the page. It requires reflection and time to achieve precision and unique depiction. In these poems, and others, Blaxall hasn’t moved beyond the general to the particular and personal. Her poetry would be much improved by offering small details — for example, a day when the young man came in the kitchen for water, his hair the color of a honeycomb at dusk, or other specific moments — to allow readers to enter and participate in her recollection and grief.
Blaxall’s book has much to recommend it, including warmth, authenticity and poignancy. While it lacks the finesse of more sophisticated fare, with time, patience, focus and forbearance, the author seems to have what it takes to reach the next level.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.