By Mary Riley
In his most recent poetry collection, Hailstorm Interlude, Wisconsin poet Thomas J. Erickson combines the ordinary and the humorously surreal to portray the interior life. The opening poem (of the same title as the collection), sets the stage:
there looking at the scores
on my cell phone when my mom, who
had been dead for a couple
of years, called and told me to get out
my baseball card collection”.
These poems delve into events remembered and imagined, highlighting how thin the line between imagination and memory can be as one interprets and reinterprets them over time. Poems such as “The Weave” and “Baseball” are as much about the re-evocation of one’s best memories and time as they are about sports.
What I find the most compelling about Erickson’s poetry is the juxtaposition of rollick and profound, as in the poem “At the Abandoned Lumberjack Cemetery”, where a father and his sons spend a few moments of a dying summer afternoon lying in the depressions made by forgotten men’s graves near Lake Superior. Similarly, while the poem “The Theft” is amusing in its tale of a man who proves his innocence to police in digging up flowers from the backyard of a house he once owned, it also leaves the reader to think about what else is stolen away when a marriage ends and time moves on.
Equally compelling are Erickson’s arresting turns of phrase and meaning – verse, in the traditional meaning of the word – as in the poems “Blue”, “Discovery”, and “The Prison Visit”. As in his other collections, Erickson’s experiences as an attorney add dimension, depth, and a unique perspective to his work. Within the grittier details of “The Prison Visit”, visiting a prisoner serving a might-as-well-be-life sentence, he writes of the man’s missed humanity: “He’ll die in his room someday. / His earphones will be in and no one will hear the symphony.”
There is an underlying tenderness in this poetry collection – on full display in the poem “The Providence of the Fall of a Snowflake” – which makes me read, re-read, and remember Erickson’s words long after I’ve finished. I know in my gut that I will reach for this collection on my bookshelf again and again, and recommend Hailstorm Interlude to other readers for that same reason.
Mary Riley is a graduate of Beloit College and lives in Richmond, Virginia. Her poems have appeared in the anthology Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior (eds. Jim Perlman et al., Holy Cow! Press, 2015), Blueline, From The Depths (Haunted Waters Press), Stoneboat Literary Journal, and Lingering in the Margins: A River City Poets Anthology (eds. Joanna S. Lee et al., Chop Suey Books Press, 2019).