Then and Now
Author: Jean Tobin
Publisher: Audio Arcadia (2021)
In this engaging new collection of poems, written over several decades, Jean Tobin includes memories, hopes for the future, and precise observations of daily life, then and now. Time is a constant theme, particularly in its passing, in its transience. Always there is the question of what lasts. But this is an affirmative book, filled with the love of nature, of art and literature, of individual people and people in groups. The book gives glimpses of urban life, in Milwaukee and Boston, Cambridge and New York—of Marlborough Street and Harvard Square, Washington Square and Central Park—and of the “Up North” of Wisconsin, with its wolves and loons. But mainly, what emerges is the landscape of Black River, an actual place not found on any map, with its white pines and birches, its maples and beeches, frequented by deer and grey fox, red squirrels and grey ones, and a plethora of birds: cardinals and blue jays, chickadees and nuthatches, the great blue heron and the sandhill crane. Against this background and rejoicing in seasonal change, Jean Tobin sets her poems of domestic daily life and loss.Frequently writing in free verse, she also uses traditional forms—Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets, villanelles—and rhyme schemes, sometimes mischievously playing with their traditional intent. In one poem, the last words of each line add up to a line by Shakespeare. In ekphrasis poems, those describing other works of art, such as the sequence of sonnets and short poems called “Modern Women: Eight Poems from Paintings," the situation of women in works from 1864 to 1927 by Whistler, Monet, Rousseau, Picasso, Leger, de Chirico, and Grant Wood is suggested. In both free verse and traditional forms, here are poems about poets—Antler, Susan Firer, John Koethe—and lightly comic poems about the muse and writing poetry. Jean Tobin’s sonnets are about love in a commuter marriage and tercets concerning everyday cruelty purposely dismissed in a public café. Her domestic poems tell tales of a wayward cat and a brave one. Included are memories—of skating and making snow angels, playing “statues” as a child and marching in a high school band, playing piccolo in a parade that was literally lost. Written with obvious pleasure, these are poems to be enjoyed.