Harry Thurston,
Broken Vessel
(Gaspereau Press, 2007)

In 2000, the Canadian poet Harry Thurston spent 35 days on an archeological dig in Egypt's Western Desert. Each day was spent on the dig and each night he wrote one poem. The poems, he says, "were drawn from three principle sources: my firsthand observations of the desert environment and the things living in it; the Western desert's known history; and my daily discovery of its revealed history." This small and beautiful book contains those poems.

Since the desert is quiet, these are quiet poems, small and short. None is more than a page long and most are half a page or less. Each, though, offers a terrific reading experience and each, in its quiet unassuming way, makes a larger point about the desert and about life itself. Here is #8:

The ghost of a lake
above the desert
once it was here
deep and wet.
Now it appears only
to those who believe.
Reading those eight lines, those 25 words, it is easy to overlook the careful craft that drives them. Each line breaks exactly where it needs to, each image conjures up just the right sensory impression and the sound values are carefully considered. It is the best kind of craft: the kind that does not call attention to itself.

The poem also makes a larger statement, containing an implication, a suggested statement about the way we perceive reality. In all, it is a deceptively complex piece of work.

The key to this book is captured in a single line: sand conquers everything. When all of human achievement is gone, when all of our ego-driven need for mastery, wealth and fame have disappeared, the desert will still be there. It wins all the time, every time.

Read Broken Vessel and you'll perceive the desert and maybe your own life a little differently.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

8 December 2007

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