T E S T I M O N I A L S
Michael Thomas’ Port Winston Mulberry, published in England by Littlejohn and Bray, is a welcome event on both sides of the Atlantic, and indeed wherever people care about poetry in English. While others (see, for example, the book’s jacket) will no doubt celebrate the collection for its originality – the inventive language, the wealth of surprising metaphors - what I find even more remarkable is the poet’s facility with the more traditional matters of character, history, voice, and emotion.
“Port Winston Mulberry,” the title poem, is a monologue spoken by a fictitious Canadian World War II veteran, Evan Statler, revisiting Normandy Beach. In increasingly sobering detail, “Statler” recalls the horror of the invasion, as his daughter and grandchildren, his companions on this return trip, show more interest in eating ice cream and moving on to the next attraction. Thomas animates the narrator and brings to life, with skill and efficiency, not only the other family members but also two of Statler’s comrades-in-arms, the eager Cal D’Entremont and sneering Rod McKercher, who died in the Allied invasion.
He demonstrates a similar feel for character in the mock-epic “Weddell’s Soft Drinks, Telford, August 2, 1967.” A first-job story, the poem relates in painstakingly hilarious detail what happens in a soft drink factory when the machine that fastens the bottle caps malfunctions and wreaks havoc on the factory floor. We are treated to incisive descriptions of Peplow, the supervisor in “his rust-embattled eyrie,” and co-workers Gullick and Inskip. In the end, Peplow saves the day and order is restored, but not before he
asks Gullick, Inskip and me
if we know what a broom looks like
and scrutinizes the restored capping head with “a last vae victus glower at the capping head.” Finally, as the familiar hum of machinery resumes, we hear co-worker Inskip ask “when this new Radio 1 is supposed to start.” Again, the gift for narration, with a dramatist’s feel for how dialogue reveals character. Again, the interest in history, this time presented as a kind of footnote to the main discussion.
Thomas paints deft, affectionate portraits of family members as well. In “Sparking Sonnet,” his Dad’s defining attribute is a fondness for driving old vans “that burst like baleful rumor on the streets,/ and signed the air with histories of gas.” “My Brother” gives a telling glimpse of his errant brother on one of the brother’s brief, unannounced visits home. And we come to know his mother, passing the last days of her life in the hospital, by her trademark, “So, there we are,” a phrase that is “a hallo, a goodbye,/ as occasion merited.”
The language throughout has a grit and tactility that seems distinctly British to this American ear. It has a bite which is, however, always without animus, ironic rather than sarcastic. No matter how wry, it insists on compassion. We hear this quality, for example, in the rhetorical repetition of the title phrase, “Now the Wife’s Gone,” in a poem of mourning. The poem’s speaker, haunted by familiar sounds like the mantle-clock amid the “dust of silences” in his empty house, is “trapped” by a meddlesome maiden into attending a support group with fellow grievers. Given a writing assignment at this meeting, he manages only the word “mantle-piece” as he taps his pen waiting for the other mourners to finish putting down their thoughts.
These are poems that show abundant self-compassion, feeling for family, and affectionate regard for all the various characters Thomas encounters and describes. There is also the unabashed tenderness for an anonymous lovelorn soul in “Especial.” Perhaps most touching is the empathy and devotion he expresses for friends. We see this in “Visible Weighting,” a tribute to “Hoj,” or Mike Hodgkiss, “rock [music] expert and premier audiophile,” as well as in “Reunion,” the collection’s final poem about an old mate who has fallen on hard times. Gone are the man’s “old defiant joy” and “madly wise regard”: “He’s been well mugged by time.” At the pub, over pints and darts, the friend’s tale of troubles “tips out”:
the jobs gone west, the pouting website bride
who sliced and diced his nest-egg, sank his pride,
the carping-hearted kin, the liver bout....
The poem brings us to the very moment when the friend turns to the speaker for a response. What will he say? Poem and book end on this poignant note, and so we never learn what happens next. What we realize instead, yet again, is that we’re reading the work of a gifted poet who is – to enlarge upon one of his lines beyond its intended context – “deeper in the know than most.”
- Barry George
"Since 2002, Dr. Michael Wyndham Thomas has helped develop and spearhead the workshops for the Key West Robert Frost Poetry Festival. His hands-on teaching skills make poetry exciting for even the novice; his depth of knowledge is impressive.
Because he has endeared himself to everyone associated with the festival—and to many others who live on this island at the southernmost point in the United States—Dr. Thomas is fondly referred to as the Poet at Large in the Conch Republic Navy." Barbara Bowers
Many thanks from The 2008 Robert Frost Poetry Festival Committee, Key West, Florida.
‘What is this man doing to me? I want easy references, polite allusions. I don’t want my thoughts to be shattered, to fall down like a wet wave! Michael Thomas tears the traditions of metaphors and similes apart. One feels each word took him hours to select before he cemented it in place; he has complete control of his medium. An American poet would shun some of his subjects—the skateboarder, for instance. In the land of super-highways, being established socially and financially becomes rather important. So a skateboarder is too trivial and transient a subject for us—but I know my blood ran cold and then hot when I read ‘The Last Skateboarder’ carefully. For me, it tossed Eliot’s spoonfuls on the rug and announced the new ‘Howl!’ Always his language is terse and efficient. No words are wasted on poetical indulgences.’
Kirby Congdon, US poet, dramatist, editor and associate of the Beat Poets; author of Selected Poems and Prose Poems and New Mystic, Connecticut, Sixty-Five Years Ago
‘Michael Thomas’s poems are just plain good. Original images, unusual connections—how the hell did he manage to become so original in this age of “Everybody is a poet”?’
Lloyd Van Brunt, US poet and novelist, original poetry editor of the
US National Pushcart Prize and author of Delirium: Selected Poems
‘Here is an interesting voice, perhaps the poetic voice of the West Midlands: the language ingenious, unexpected, creating a working landscape of words, inventive in phrase and syntax. Quirky. Full of uncommon sense.’
Michael Standen, poet and novelist; co-editor of Other Poetry
‘Whether it's the wind or “my dad”, the pub or the Oxford Union and Hitler, MIchael Thomas's poems always spring surprises of description, of language and of story. They have to be poems because talk isn't like this nor is prose narrative; a trail is laid, discoveries are made, in the way only poetry eluding easy precis can achieve.’
---David Hart, poet and dramatist; former Poet Laureate of Birmingham; author of setting the poem to words, The Crag Inspector and Running Out
Testimonial from The Coachhouse Writers, Stourbridge, West Midlands, England,
formed in 1997, with whom I have worked since 2001.
"The Coachhouse Writers in Stourbridge have enjoyed the many and varied courses Michael Thomas has organised for us, which have covered a broad range of topics. These included ‘Fictionalising the Self’, ‘Adventures in Biography and Autobiography’, ‘Creator’s Mind - Editor’s Mind’, ‘Poetry and Ballads’ and ‘A Year of Themes’, as well as helpful workshops. Michael’s sense of humour and breadth of literary knowledge have been inspirational. We particularly appreciate the leeway he allows us to follow any genre while taking note of the themes and stimuli he suggests as guidelines.
He has also made some telling contributions to our annual magazine of prose and poetry, Coachlines."
Elizabeth Kirk (Chairman), Meg Tiller (Secretary), Brian Drew (Treasurer) and the Coachhouse Writers, 2007
6th July, 2007. Testimonial from Marsh Muirhead, the Island Republic, Bemidji, Minnesota, and chief editor of The Island Journal. At the Island Literary celebrations of 30th June, 2007, my CD, Seventeen Poems and a Bit of a Song, was played; and my poem ‘Allt Er Leyfilegt!’—commissioned by the board of The Island Journal—was read as a ‘round.’ (The title, from the Icelandic, means ‘everything is permitted’.)
"On the more boisterous program Saturday night – after the wine and cheese – we played your “Battle Hymn of the Conch Republic” to wild applause, then “Set Down This”. Then I read your bottle poem [‘Allt Er Leyfilegt!’]--very well received! On Sunday morning we had a much more attentive and literary audience, so we repeated the above, plus your ‘bit of a song,’ and a further selection of poems from the CD. The bottle poem was read by a different reader for each stanza, to great effect. Thank you again for a job so well done!!"
Marsh Muirhead, editor, The Island Journal
Allt Er Leyfilegt! By Michael W. Thomas
(dedicated to the Fuel of the Island)
For Marsh Muirhead, editor of The Island Journal, literary journal for the Island Republic of Minnesota.
The bottles drift in through the mists on the river,
each one a soul-saver, a lease-of-life-giver,
be-corked and be-labelled and, so it’s presumed,
all destined at once to be broached and consumed.
For the Island Republic requires every bouquet
of France, Spain, Milwaukee and Rhine: from Le Touquet
to Pisa the planes hasten high with their cargo--
for Islanders scorn any boozy embargo.
By first light the bottles assemble themselves
on the Isle, as if wrought there by bibulous elves.
Day breaks! And the river resounds to the clack
and deep swooshing of oar, dinghy, raft and ka-yak.
The sun gawps in envy as once more there gather
the Free of the Isle to sing, dance, whoop and blather.
The sky swells brimful with those tales of the grand yore
declaimed to sweet melody—bow upon handsaw.
‘Freedom!’ cries each stirring current that passes,
’Freedom!’ re-echo the jugs, vats and glasses,
the hours fly in revelry, sunfishing, drinks--
till the day, like an optic’s apology, sinks.
The kayaks depart now, the handsaw falls silent,
the river’s broad arms (neither playful nor vi’lent)
bear off the proud Daughters and Sons of the Nation,
their minds tuned anew—to the next celebration!
Then, bottle by bottle, the ghosts slip away
of grain, grape and hop-strand, the fuel of the day.
But fear not! They’ll return to bless belly and head
and cry loud ‘allt er leyfilegt’ Yea!! Truly said!!
allt er leyfilegt—‘everything is permitted’ (Icelandic)
Michael W. Thomas,
Albion’s Bard to the Island.
May 6th, Bank Holiday weekend, 2007
‘Michael Thomas is a superb speaker. His in-depth knowledge of his subject and his engaging delivery made us all compulsive, fascinated listeners and I know every one of us came away exhilarated by the day. It was very worthwhile.’ David Howard, Devizes Writers Group; 'Building Effective Characters' workshop, May 2008.