Turning Manet on his head, entering the thoughts of a post prandial lion, viewing and buying a ‘snorting’ Hot Rod, imagining life on a modern-day Titanic, wondering what happens to the story after a book is finished or what a sonnet written by a modern day Shakespeare might look like, The Weather on the Moon ranges across art, music, philosophy, literature and poetry, politics, history, science and the natural world to encounter what it’s like to be alive.
Bubbling away throughout this intense, sometimes humorous, sometimes quirky, always compassionate poetry is a joy in language, its possibilities, and music. As Graham Hardie writes, his work ‘fuses many elements into one short space: pathos; wit; dexterous use of simile and metaphor; a heightened imagination; an ability to make poetry from the commonplace.’
Poems are like rooms with walls and windows and ceilings and doors and they are constructed on mathematical principles which typically ensure a degree of equilibrium. One might feel safe in such a room and, at first sight, the poems of Robin Thomas employ an architecture which is reassuring. The speaker reaches out for certainty in ‘Danger Zone’: ‘I think of a place of safety in a whirling, dangerous world.’ One of the many virtues of this collection is an ability to look hard at the quotidian. ‘Unmendable’, for example, is ‘after Philip Larkin’ and Larkin would not have disapproved of Thomas’ many jazz references either – Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Count Basie.
Yet walls shake and windows crack and the ‘homely’ formal qualities of these well-made poems belie a mystery, a strangeness, a reckoning. ‘Flood’ is ‘after Ted Hughes’ and the speaker at the end of ‘Danger Zone’ advises us not to spend too long in a place of sanctuary: It’s amongst ‘the danger and delight of the world you need to be.’ And, for Thomas, such a world is charged with ekphrastic reverberations as he takes us away from a ‘sober English light’ into Magritte’s European surrealism (‘The Treachery of Images’), Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism (‘No Chaos Dammit’) and Hopper’s existentialism. The meticulous delivery of these poems ushers in a psychological crisis. If, for Larkin, poetry ‘is an affair of sanity’, Thomas’ invocation of Van Gogh (‘Is it a mad, mad, mad, mad world?) questions such convictions – and history would seem to be on the side of Thomas.
– Julian Stannard
Robin Thomas. Paperback, 210 x 135 mm, 64 pages, October 2022.
Robin Thomas spent most of his working life in an engineering company in Reading having qualified as a chemical engineer at Birmingham University. While still employed, he obtained a degree in English Studies from the then Polytechnic of North London, followed by an MA in Victorian Poetry at the Open University and an MA in Writing Poetry at Kingston University. He lives in Caversham.