Far Cry, a poetry book by Tom Daley reviewed by Mary Beth Hines

Far Cry, a poetry book by Tom Daley reviewed by Mary Beth Hines

Tom Daley’s beautiful, handmade chapbook, Far Cry (Ethel Zine & Micro Press, 2022), is an elegy for a once-close, estranged gay friend as well as a spirited musing on time, memory, and loss. Most of the poems are written in a contemporary rendering of elegiac couplets, effectively linking form to function. Through them, Daley resurrects his deceased friend with a mix of playful, heart-wrenching, and incisive recollections. 

In the opening stanzas of the first poem, Obituary Picture, Daley deftly captures the palpable physical presence of the addressee together with the complexity of his character and personality.

“Your dear and dangerous mouth is open
to the sunlight. In your red jersey

and perfectly white t-shirt,
you are a cardinal on holiday.” 

From there, we learn that the friend, a master gardener, operates as both grower and destroyer, literally and figuratively. The portrait deepens in the second poem, “Gay Blade,” where the subject’s dynamic changeability—simultaneously fascinating and maddening—are introduced in lines such as: 

“Here, old contender,
bring me your scalding

sashay. Bring me your 
scolding sense of the proper

alignment of recent trends 
in thermals and socks,

your eye always split between
nasturtiums and hawks”

These themes carry throughout the sequence delving into the couple’s shared history, including a night at a club called “The Lost and Found.” The poem, of the same title, includes some of my favorite lines and these serve as an example of Daley’s poetic prowess in evoking image, time, place, eroticism, and emotion concurrently. He writes:

“…In a club called

The Lost and Found,
how you held your head

stiff as a twelve-inch ruler 
while your hips peppermilled

the disco floor strewn with white-
hot diamonds, your sneaker feet 

bounding under the trampoline 
and the amphetamine of your smile.” 

The poems portray the deceased in full color, with all his zest for life, edgy humor, and moody irascibility. Some poems, like “Infant of Prague” and “Fashion” capture moments of hilarity. These are often conveyed with irony and sometimes juxtaposed with grievance or lament. Other poems stop the reader cold with a flash of insight. For example, in the title poem, “Far Cry,” amid a cacophony of sound that includes gibbons ululating in a zoo, and a woman “trying to suppress /the commotion of her passion,” the poet notes that one particular repeating cry:

“…seemed to assert 
the primacy of impulse over deliberation,

to warn that degrees of order 
are a fragile bulwark

against incursions
of the whooping

vocalizations of the hemmed-in
and the caged…” 

Similarly startling and astute, in “Death is the Only,” Daley writes:

“…I want to say
because I have conjured you

with such intensity
that I have conspired

with death to keep
your oblivion at bay.”

The closing poem, “I Send You Off with the Words of a Pop Song Looping in My Ears,” achieves a perfect landing for this collection. Visually and sonically vivid, the poem conjures a memory of the couple as young men speeding “breakneck” on a boat and “brawling backwards into the foam.” The friend’s smiles are:

“…demure and murderously

limned with the caution
we are tossing to the wind.

All quirk and plenteous play
and never a dull boy…”

I heard Tom Daley read these poems at Grolier Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts in August 2022. With every poem memorized, and an actor’s stage presence, Daley had the audience laughing and sighing, puzzling over life alongside him, and perhaps most important, celebrating his friend. In one of the last poems in the book, “Am I Any Closer” Daley asks:

“Am I any closer
to the final embrace

of the living ghost
I have inspirited

with all the choruses
of you I have set

to shouting—
all the reverberations

from our shared era,
all the dioramas of you

in your loving and imperious
sweetness, your gentle

and your startle?”

By the end of the evening at Grolier, it was clear that the answer is a resounding “yes.”

/////////


Tom Daley’s poetry has appeared in North American Review, Harvard Review, Massachusetts Review, 32 Poems, Fence, Denver Quarterly, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Witness, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Dana Award in Poetry. FutureCycle Press published his collection of poetry, House You Cannot Reach—Poems in the Voice of My Mother and Other Poems. He is the author of a play, Every Broom and Bridget—Emily Dickinson and Her Irish Servants, which he performs as a one-man show. He leads writing workshops in the Boston area and online for poets and writers working in creative prose.

//////////

Mary Beth Hines (reviewer) is an award-winning poet who also writes short fiction and non-fiction from her home in Massachusetts. Her debut poetry collection, Winter at a Summer House, was published by Kelsay Books in November 2021. Her recent work appears in The Inflectionist Review, The MacGuffin, SWWIM, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso and elsewhere. Her short fiction was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Connect with her at www.marybethhines.com

Read Mary Beth Hines's poem, "On Saint Martin", in this issue #11 of Lightwood.

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