Spotlight on Earthen, poems by Thomas Festa/ reviewed by Laurence Carr

With anticipation, I awaited the arrival of Earthen, poems by Thomas Festa who is no stranger to Lightwood. We’ve published two of the poems from this new collection, “On the Death of Miles Davis” and “The Algebra of Origins”. Along with these, Mr. Festa has written reviews for Lightwood, examining the works of Jorie Graham and Robert Haas. (Click on our Search Tab and insert Mr. Festa’s name to read more from him)


Earthen is an intriguing travelogue through human experience and emotions as well as our physical world. Much is packed into the 24 poems, some more formal (“That There Could Be Such Brightness in the World”), some in focused poetic short-hand (“Kyoto-Paris”), and several as long-line prose poems (“Cover of Time” and “When We Know Our Names”). Each poem is accessible on first reading, many simple in their narrative, but none of them simplistic. There is depth here, but the depth of feeling and ideas may not enter the reader’s consciousness until the poem is read and we have a moment to reflect on what the writer has presented to us.  


The opening poem sets the tone for the book: “Andalusian June (In memoriam Pauline Achmanowicz)”. This ode to a mutual friend and fine poet who passed away a few years ago speaks about how we as poets and readers, continue to grasp for the unattainable, perhaps the only thing worth reaching for. It also speaks to loss and grief, but not in a way that will collapse us into forgetting but will be forever present as memory. The opening lines read:

“Bare feet flat on earthen tiles,
cool soles pat arabesques.
It’s solstice. Out tall window-doors,
spires to remind us
of what we’ll never be, reach . . .”

and ending with the line,

“this is how I remember losing . . .”


The poem “Words for _____”  mixes both meta-poem with self-examination but never falls into a writer’s personal murkiness ; rather, it creates a more universal perception. It begins:

“I write these words so you might hear them
as if in your own voice—writing of you
till it makes something happen.”


Read more poems and reviews by Thomas Festa here on Lightwood. Click on our Search Button.

Mr. (Dr.) Festa brings ironic humor to “On a Distant Prospect of the Zen Mountain Monastery,” whose title is nearly as long as the poem. I admire writers who mixes a lofty image with day-to-day action, showing how we are so often living in two worlds: our interior meditative life and  our day-to-day episodes. This dichotomy is seen throughout the book, making it both a unique and universal experience. I won’t quote the above poem here, even in its brevity; I don’t want to give away its cosmic punchline. I encourage you to read it along with the entire collection. It’s worth the reader’s time and feels written both with an ease of narration and pinpoint detail. I found a deep connection with these poems, and I hope that Dr. Festa continues with more insightful work both in his books and on the pages of Lightwood.

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