'The Music That Thinking is': Every Inadequate Name by Nick Thran
Every Inadequate Name. Nick Thran. Toronto: Insomniac Press, 2006. ISBN 1-897178-27-1
Every Inadequate Name opens with a quotation from Jack Gilbert: "It was not the bell he was trying to find, but the angel lost in our bodies. The music that thinking is. He wanted to know what he had heard, not to get closer". Nick Thran explores this music without attempting to force his will upon it, and this is one of the most important accomplishments of his debut collection. At its best, the book is cool and subtle with Thran displaying considerable skill in the dualities of rural and urban themes, technology and nature, and "high" and "low" art. The finish product is a group of poems that are flawed, vital, immediate, and mostly a pleasure to read.
Before really delving into the collection, I assumed it would be more experimental, perhaps like one of the Radiohead albums Thran refers to in "Isolation Camp, A Letter", or like Daniel Scott Tysdal's unusual debut collection. But his work is largely conservative and shows little concern for the visual potential of the genre. While this may leave him free to focus more on the subject matter and tone, the poems are more alluring and often more efficient when he slips out of the predictable formatting as he does in "Monday In The World Of Beauty". Interestingly, this is a poem that not only looks a tad more interesting on the page, but it is also one of the best sounding pieces of the lot (sure, the half-rhymes help):
Staring at your stylists black eye
in the mirror
While she struggles
to make you appear
You slowly become
comfortable with it.
Elvis on the stereo croons,
Oh Moody Blue,
Tell me am I getting through.
Every Inadequate Name has been given something of a pop culture tag by some readers. This is likely the result of Thran's decision to include the various inadequate names of things like Radiohead, Mr. T, and In Style magazine. Elizabeth Bachinsky's endorsement on the back cover refers to his poetry "permeating [in the same way] a Top 40 hit finds us anywhere we travel". While Thran does bring pop music into play in "How Pop Sounds" (parts one and two), it seems a mistake to suggest this collection of poems contains anything a reader might find rhythmically magnetic, any musicality that sticks in the head like a good pop song. Thran's voice is clunkier, more Indy Rock than Pop. And the so-labeled "pop sensibility" is, in this reader's opinion, less popular than it is uniquely observant of the minutiae, an expression of the narrator's specific subtle emotions. In "The Coin O'Rama Laundromat, A Dedication" the small details of life, the subtle and delicate, are what fuel the poem:
the Korean woman with slender fingers
picking lint and old dryer sheets deep
from the bowels—
how the final moment must feel
when she closes the lid
of the trash can
filled with clouds.
Overall there are lines in this poem and others that could have been weeded, that crowd out some of the beauty of Thran's acute, almost Imagistic observations. Nevertheless, these observations are still relevant and he paints them wonderfully in cool blues and off-whites. While Thran's poetry is electric at times, it doesn't throw off much heat—frustration and intensity rarely move these poems. He is a cool poet, someone most comfortable seeking out the beauty of this existence: "In this light, it feels good just to lie like that / for an entire afternoon" (Coastline Variation # 19).
This volume also has geographic and topical range, perhaps a product of his upbringing in Canada, Spain, and California. The first section, "The Blank Leaved Book", hones in on urban/suburban subject matter: suburban sprall, design, Pee Wee football, laudromat and pop music. "The Backwards Music", the second section, is more sensual and focused on travel with a few of his Coastline Variation poems. "Edgewater" finishes it off with a good mix. In it, Thran combines things like tree planting ("Isolation Camp, A Letter") with television (Coastline Variation #86)."Bird Time" is well placed to conclude the book, managing to synthesize many of the book's themes and use language that is somehow immediate and timeless, urban and rural. The lines are blurred here, leaving the reader a sense of what Thran, at his best, is capable of:
It's almost Bird Time. The name you gave
to when even the trucks racing on Burden Street
quiet their engines;
to when the glow-stick's impossible green
flickers out, and the hard-house,
the break-beats, the trance
grind their teeth into silence.
Occasionally, one does get the sense that he is precipitously close to edge of legitimate sentimentality. But as Robert Lowell once said in an interview with The Paris Review: "There's some way of distinguishing between false sentimentality, which is blowing up a subject and giving emotions that you don't feel, and using whimsical, minute, tender, small emotions that most people don't feel". Not all readers will feel all of these small emotions, but it is important that Thran does, even if it means falling over the edge in poems like "Coastline Variation #76". I will gladly take such missteps if the end result is a poem like "Coastline Variation #3" with the beautiful lines "The name is the wake that the flesh leaves behind. / The flesh is a visible shiver". Again, it is Thran's ability to quietly tint the most tenuous and essential of human occurrences that make him a writer deserving of attention. No doubt he has shown but a glimpse of his potential and readers should look forward to more of these explorations into the music of thinking.