by Dragoș Ilca
Z. G. Tomaszewski, All Things Dusk, Hong Kong University Press, 2015. 104 pgs.
The literary universe of Z.G. Tomaszewski's All Things Dusk—which won the Hong Kong University International Poetry Prize in 2014—mostly revolves around images of farmland and forests. Reminiscent of a Romantic idyllic environment, All Things Dusk nostalgically pieces together fragments of memory: apples, trees, bats, bears, herons, butterflies, brothers, ice cream, scythes and so on. The episodic sequencing of the scenes and memories, coupled with a lyrical self that tries to patch itself together, suggests a post-traumatic experience. This lyrical presence, struggling to work through an unknown traumatic event, finds some sort of solace or anchorage in images of the countryside and the surrounding nature. Poems like "Silencing the Crickets" or the breaking down of language and intimacy in "Correction" make me believe that the lyrical self is trying to recuperate a previously lost state of integrity.
Indeed, the post-reading atmosphere of All Things Dusk is one of disquiet amid all the nostalgic, almost pastoral frames being put together. Read in this way, as well as taking into account the fact that the time setting is mostly at dusk or nighttime, the collection problematises the idea of finding refuge in nature. At worst, it serves to anesthetise the trauma (though it is not stated explicitly); at best, nature becomes a hierophanic experience, a means to rediscover the sacred in a profane world. This might also explain why Tomaszewski is so insistent in reminding the reader time and time again that we are in a wood, or in a farmland, or that we are watching a bat or a butterfly or a bear. Almost always there is an object, or an animal, or a person, something insignificant at first, that ultimately reveals the lyrical presence and the world surrounding it.
Although reading All Things Dusk as a response to a traumatic event can certainly lead to an intriguing discussion, there are issues that should be addressed regarding the method in which the collection employs language in delivering its message. One can argue, naturally, that it could be part of the authorial intention, yet I found the poetic language rather bland. As such, it might be difficult for some readers to truly get into and enjoy All Things Dusk. The apathy and the lethargic state that permeates the collection could be off-putting for some readers. If one approaches the poems with the intention of finding something catchy or being immediately drawn in, then All Things Dusk might not be the best choice. The poems simply float about, small observations of small situations, a recording of thoughts and impressions that melt and feed into one another. The fascinating part of All Things Dusk, however, and what ultimately redeems the collection is the fact that it leaves the reader in a state of confusion and wonder. This is by no means a negative, as I believe that "good" literature "should" be able to confuse its readers. At the same time, it is not a frustrating kind of confusion, in the sense that Tomaszewski purposefully deceives his readers, or reveals a grand scheme of things at the end of his poems; on the contrary, it is that kind of confusion that makes you ask questions. The author leaves a trail of breadcrumbs and maybe throws out a red herring here and there, yet we still do not know who is the lyrical presence, what happened and what are its motivations if any. The fact that I linked the disquiet of the poems with an unknown traumatic event that occurred at a given time in the lyrical self's existence is purely an interpretative act, rather than an appreciative one. And this is what I think—despite the mellowness and the often conventional poetic language in which the images are delivered—that good literature does best: not presenting the whole picture, not (having the claims of) answering every question; rather, it moves past and through the reader, giving you a hint of the answer, like the mist of the mountain that's printed on the cover of All Things Dusk.