Sometimes we come across a book of poetry that is far outside standard norms or forms, such as Timothy Strong's All the Echoes (Boneworld Publishing, $15). At first look we might be put off by the way the thing is organized, or disorganized. We may glance at a few poems and see no titles, find the writing rough, feel that the sentiments and ideas are a bit pedestrian or, perhaps, even shallow. Then a certain phrase or way of phrasing pops out at us:
Where does rare
To a long high-peak
If she was a sick gold fish
Until the water ran clear
And she was gone for good
Those kinds of arresting lines showed up in this book often enough to warrant a closer reading. So, it was back to the beginning and the “Foreword” where we are told “This book describes the chaos of madness and the fortunes and misfortunes of love…The search for truth in much of this book is as illusory as a cure for bipolar illness which affects 2.6 million people, their family (sic) and friends.”
And indeed, this book is about mental illness and love. It is 172 pages of rough, raw poetry interspersed with fine, delicate and surprising lines. Structure is inconsistent. Some of the love poems are nearly childish in their tone of awe and wonder. And the trail of madness and melancholy of the author is very clearly represented in these tightly packed pages. But the book is not without relief or humor. And there’s even a touch of sly eroticism. It is a courageous saga told in meticulous details woven into a collection of unusual poems.
Mr. Strong’s method is to tell everything, to get it all down. He writes of medical treatments, family members and family problems, falling in love, falling out of love, popular culture and much, much more. It can be overwhelming at times, a mind-numbing sensory parade of emotions and characters and conflicts. But there are some quiet moments of reflection on the natural world and interludes of peace.
This book won’t be for everyone. The poetic purist will find much to dislike. But for a very real representation of one poet’s journey through mental illness, treatment and recovery you would be hard pressed to find a more exemplary account done in verse. It is often wrenching, sometimes nearly sublime and always brutally honest.
Jim Bourey is an old poet and occasional prose writer living on the edge of the northern Adirondacks. His poetry chapbook "Silence, Interrupted" was published in 2015 by the Broadkill River Press. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, Gargoyle and other anthologies and journals. He can often be found in darkened rooms reading aloud.