Poetry is a way to grapple with the inevitable and unavoidable experience of loneliness. Tariq Thompson does just that in his debut poetry collection, “LONE LILY,” published by Sunset Press, a student-run publishing press at Kenyon College. Thompson is a Kenyon College graduate, with his poetry appearing in literary journals including The Adroit Journal, Sixth Finch, The American Poetry Review, and wildness. In “LONE LILY,” Thompson conveys through his writing that loneliness is not only a universal experience, but can also get us closer to discovering the root of our being. Reading this collection of poetry has taught me to become more comfortable with my solitude.
“LONE LILY” opens with the epigraph “I ain’t got nobody / that I can depend on / ‘cept myself” from Etheridge Knight. Aside from the first part of this chapbook being titled “LONE,” this epigraph introduces the reader to this section’s theme: loneliness.
In the opening poem “ON THEIR BIRTHDAY, SUGE KNIGHT & MY DADDY DISCUSS FORGIVENESS” Thompson begins with:
For years crime & cry seemed like the same word (1).
Using two words with almost identical sounding pronunciation, referred to as minimal pairs, Thompson examines the juxtaposing meanings associated with “crime & cry,” particularly violence and vulnerability. Thompson bends the rules of linguistics when he writes “You can be & do crime.” Better yet, he redefines the meaning of language, forcing the reader to realize there is only meaning to language when we provide it.
Later on in the poem, he writes:
There is a whale in the ocean
Everyone calls lonely. Its cries, like a child, are heard
By no one. it’s talking to itself. Ignoring the fact that
It is a whale, ignoring the fact that it lurks, I see myself (1)
Thompson explores how loneliness is universal and not an experience limited to humans, which resonates with me because experiencing loneliness means I’m a part of the world, a part of a greater purpose, a part of something beyond myself. Thompson is not afraid to reach deep within his own solitude and face it head-on, to call it by name.
In “THERE’S A LEAK IN THIS OLD BUILDING” the speaker reflects on their Nana’s relationship with grief. Thompson writes “isn’t life just a circle of grief,” (5) coming to the conclusion that experiencing life also means experiencing death.
Thompson ends the poem with:
does a dead flower still need
water. can you grieve someone who’s still alive (5).
By finishing these powerful sentiments with periods, rather than question marks, Thompson reinvents grammatical mood. By playing around with the rules of grammar, Thompson makes his writing both clever and transcending.
The second part of this chapbook, titled “LILY,” opens with a seemingly similar epigraph from Etheridge Knight: “We ain’t got nobody / that we can depend on / ‘cept ourselves.” The key difference between these two epigraphs are the personal pronouns employed. “LONE” utilizes “I” and “myself,” evoking a sense of isolation. Whereas “LILY” utilizes “we” and “ourselves,” evoking a sense of community.
In “PRINCE READING TONI MORRISON 1987 TONI MORRISON DANCING TO PRINCE 1974” Thompson writes:
O, the string of Black this is.
This curve of dark history,
pressed against memory
like cool cloth to fever.
Like fresh lips to bone (16).
Thompson celebrates Black art and its history, turning to Black community as a remedy to the previously explored loneliness in “LONE.” This is a common thread throughout the poems in “LILY,” in which he writes poems inspired by Black artists including Frank Ocean, Barry White, James Baldwin, and Terrance Hayes.
In “ON OUR BIRTHDAY, LORRAINE HANSBERRY & I DISCUSS SUNLIGHT” Thompson revisits this theme of community through Black art when he writes:
You know, it haunts
Me that so many versions of “Strange Fruit” exist.
In Nina’s, she sings the word strange like she is
About to break. In Billie’s, like she is alone (19).
Thompson lessens the weight of his own loneliness by seeking community through remembering Black artists and honoring their art. By doing so, Thompson encourages his readers to not revel in the detrimental effects of loneliness. But instead, to plant loneliness into your writing like a seed, in the hopes that it blossoms into language that will comfort and alleviate this inescapable experience.
“LONE LILY” is the outcome of the speaker’s introspection as they figure out what defines loneliness and who is bound to this oftentimes unsettling experience. Thompson writes with a specific rhythm and cadence throughout his poems which coincides with the chapbook’s theme of loneliness brilliantly. Thompson is able to uncover a tempo, pulse, and flow to loneliness, illustrating to the reader that there is music in even the melancholy if you look for it.
Annalisa Hansford is from Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Their poetry appears in Emerge Literary Journal, The Hearth Magazine, Eunoia Review, The Aurora Journal,and elsewhere. Their work has been recognized by 1455 Literary Arts, Joliet Public Library, and Grindstone Literary. They are probably listening to Gracie Abrams.