Poetry. "It's what is familiar in dreams / that is full strange, / as any child will tell you, / I too am unbidden/ & aspire to digress." There are poets who describe the world, a great many of them; but far fewer are the poets who create worlds. Tom Zemsky is one of those, and masterfully so. The dedication to his latest collection announces his program: "Metaphor is poetry enough." Using metaphor as his raw material, he constructs dreamlike poems, "full strange," that strangeness deriving from "what is familiar," fragments of the everyday we recognize in new and unexpected places, rather like finding a bit of ancient stonework recycled in a wall along a country lane. And what wonderful digressions he offers, including a kaleidoscope of possible Shakespeares ("Shakespeare the sous chef or Shakespeare the snake handler... / Shakespeare able to pull Shakespeare out of a hat"), or imagining Emily Dickinson as a "devotee of heroin / her kit / kept neatly / on a doily...." "I just try to write / like I have the DT's", he declares in "Drinking Song," "really a concoction / of inexhaustible ingredients / I have no choice in taking...." But while he may claim no choice in the taking, there is ample evidence of his choices in the making of these poems, the assurance in the placement of each word. His wonder at the world indeed appears childlike, as in his response to the discovery that he had left a purchase back at the store: "How like money/ To change hands like that. / I thought I was going out to buy something / for the evening meal / instead of participating in magic." Zemsky's poems reveal that we are always and everywhere participating in magic, if only we will recognize it. His closing poem bathes the reader in "That Kind of Moonlight" which inspires all manner of dreaming, from the "coolly hysterical predicament / caught in Kafka's pen" to the "churned ecstasy" of Jackson Pollack's paintings—"babies bring out their most improbably syllables / for that kind of moonlight...." Zemsky conjures his most improbable, and most delightful, syllables out of it as well. Let us be glad of his digressions.
Thomas Zemsky was born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1947. He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Since 1976 he has made his home in Lexington, Kentucky where he worked for many years for the International Book Project. Now retired, his favorite pastimes include listening to jazz on LP records, Latin American and modern literature, and movies according to the auteur theory. He believes that poetry, first and foremost, is metaphor. He is the author of three previous full-length poetry collections, AFTER THE STORM (Broadstone Books, 2016), A NEW SCHOOL OF DESIGN (Broadstone Books, 2022), and ELEPHANT (Broadstone Books, 2016), and his poetry has been featured in the Cincinnati Review and Sewanee Review among others.