Review of Cammy Thomas’s Cathedral of Wish by John Findura
There is something about the music of the 50s and 60s that I really enjoy. Maybe “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” and “Save the Last Dance for Me” didn’t change the world, offer a new philosophy of life, or rally a generation towards social change, but they were memorable. Even now, over 40 years after they were released, these songs maintain their power to emotionally affect even people who have never known them as anything but “oldies.” People like me.
Cammy Thomas’ debut, Cathedral of Wish, reminds me of these songs. What grabbed me first was the simplicity. Not “simple” meaning easy or devoid of challenge, but simple in terms of being accessible and easily digestible. While not every poem was what I would call spot-on perfect, there were lines that kept coming back to me after I had finished reading and put the book down. Like the best lines of those old songs, they seemed suddenly to have always been a part of my own existence.
Thomas also has a knack for placing them in just the right place, bringing out little nuances that may have been missed had they been surrounded by a weaker line. “I knew we’d end up here / where I wash my hands after touching you” (from “Almost Gone”) struck me like a smack across the face. Earlier, in “The Two,” “she’s not dead just damaged / godbottled hollowing a hole” just about created a gust of wind against my ears. There’s something to be said for a book of poetry which can bring a reader back, time after time, to search out and revisit phrases like these.
This collection is very quiet, yet the poems seem to be bubbling near their edges. There are multiple mentions of guns, hot lead, the beating of children and mothers. While it may seem like a strange juxtaposition at first, the hushed tone—almost a child’s whisper in places—brings out a realness that makes me want to cross the poetic line and ask “did this really happen?” I wouldn’t ask for the sake of understanding the poem, but for my own sake—she makes me want to know.
Another aspect I found enjoyable was the form. Thomas likes short lines, couplets and tercets, and rarely venturing beyond these boundaries. The poems are often short, but seldom lacking. The four lines of “The Quiet Boy” ends with “watching his baby sister get beaten.” There is no need for anything after that. The punctuation is almost non-existent and a capital letter leading off a line is avoided like a bad cliché. In some ways, Cathedral of Wish is almost too sparse.
Containing only 48 poems, the book feels a little thin. I don’t advocate including underwhelming material just for the sake of fattening a book, but part of me wanted more of something. But then I thought back to those pop songs and remembered that one of the things that drew me to them was that they created perfect little worlds for themselves to exist in, and packed as much power into two minutes as they could. Cammy Thomas hasn’t created a perfect world, but it is a good one. I have found it an engaging, if not always pleasant, place to visit from time to time.
Cathedral of Wish
Four Way Books
52 pp $14.95 paper