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Review: Thaw (poems) ~ by Chelsea Dingman

96 pages, paperback £15.30 / $19.95
University of Georgia Press (30 Sept. 2017)


Thaw delves into the issues at the core of a resilient family: kinship, poverty, violence, death, abuse, and grief. The poems follow the speaker, as both mother and daughter, as she travels through harsh and beautiful landscapes in Canada, Sweden, and the United States. Moving through these places, she examines how her surroundings affect her inner landscape; the natural world becomes both a place of refuge and a threat. As these themes unfold, the histories and cold truths of her family and country intertwine and impinge on her, even as she tries to outrun them.

Unflinching and raw, Chelsea Dingman’s poems meander between childhood and adulthood, the experiences of being a mother and a child paralleling one another. Her investigation becomes one of body, self, woman, mother, daughter, sister, and citizen, and of what those roles mean in the contexts of family and country.



Thaw is Chelsea Dingman’s inaugural poetry collection. In these poems, the author talks about violence, abuse, death, loss and grief; about family and childhood, about being a daughter, and about growing up and becoming an adult and a mother; about the hauntingly beautiful landscapes she travels through and lives in (against…?), across Canada and Scandinavia; and about country, citizenship and kinship. Her language is raw but streamlined, highly descriptive and evocative, drawing us into the poem and placing us exactly at its centre.

Not knowing what we are going to find inside, the first poem in the book immediately takes our breath away, beginning with the first sentence and carrying it on to the very last. And, I dare say, it sets the tone for the collection, while illustrating the strength of Dingman’s voice, and its absolutely clarity.

What we grieve is
not how death can be
dispelled in a photo, or a dream
on our hip we carry
like a child. But a man’s eyes,
blackened by the butt of a rifle.
Stars fading in the crosshairs
of the sun. A phantom
trigger, his finger
hooked through its heart.

At a glance, the blood
could belong to a deer, breath
escaping in the chill fall
air, just smoke.

Like the camera, our eyes fail
to see what falls outside
the frame—twisted limbs
like a bird’s wings
broken on the ground. How a bullet
can enter so quietly as to leave
a skull almost intact. How,
a body glitters
like the cherry
still burning
in someone else’s fingers.

I particularly like the way Dingman approaches her themes. Her voice may appear at first soft, and at times seemingly infused with an inner anger and deep sorrow, permeated as these poems are with the author’s own brand of imagery, until you linger a bit more over the lines themselves, or the very meanings hiding in them. It is then you realise the strength in these poems’ voice, and its amazing clarity.

This book is a journey through a life, and it shows: a life that has been lived the best it could, a life that has seemingly been a quest for meaning and closure, and which has had its ups and downs, its tragedies and its joys, its sorrows and its own measure of happiness.

Semantically, these poems are exquisite. I’ve read a few poetry books this year, but none like Chelsea Dingman’s. Her poetry is extremely accomplished and evocative, and the metaphors will reverberate inside you for a long time after you read it. I was so haunted (in a good way, it’s good – no, it’s excellent when poetry ‘haunts’ you!) by its language that I decided to sit the review out and reread the book at a later date. Which I now have. And I feel exactly the same way about it. It’s the highest praise I can possibly give: if you read one poetry book this year, please please make it Dingman’s Thaw. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

Verdict: Recommended
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves: Poetry, Favourite Books


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