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Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida

by Roo Borson

Despite its evocative imagery and technical excellence, Roo Borson’s ninth collection feels like a hodgepodge of diary clippings, poems, and short stories that try hard to find cohesion under a consistent theme. Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida uses the South Australian landscape, along with some Japanese history, as the backdrop to an emotionally intense trip.

Borson has all the writing skills to paint pictures in words. In “Solstice,” she writes: “And blackbirds bathe among violets,/half aspect, half unreal, in the slow rain of leaves.” The strength of her imagery is also vivid in the forlorn “Garden”: “Eye of the lake/half-closed with ice./Ducks at the one end, sleeping.”

From the thematic river imagery to a short story on persimmon trees, the deft hand of a nature-lover graces almost every piece, particularly in gems like “Seven Variations on the Word Silk”: “These days are like any other,/a spider’s thread caught in sunlight,/boredom tangled in the spindles/of the afternoon.”

Yet as compelling as the collection is, varied forms disrupt Borson’s narrative. Poorly placed sections such as the diary-like “A Bit of History” seem out of place amongst the beautiful verse, even if the river theme pops up again. Also, “Upriver Toward O_ishida” mixes creative non-fiction with a poetic memoir, and is cloaked in parallels that are tenuous at best. While poetry shouldn’t be an easy read, it should embrace clarity to better convey messages. This collection includes many long-winded ruminations that detract from its momentum. The journey is fascinating enough, so diversions merely become footnotes.

The poetic voice is strong here, even with some miscues. Borson’s past poems carry the observant attitude of a writer dedicated to exploring the humanity of the elements, and this collection is no different. Describing thunder, she writes of it “galloping, followed by a drawn-out rhythmic wheezing, wild and strange.”

These poems, though, are anything but wild and strange. Traditional technique shadows an engrossing physical and mental trek that should have leapt off the page in its entirety, rather than in spurts.