Karon Beach: Reviewed by Cindy Hochman

“Karon Beach” refers to a beautiful and relatively quiet beach in Phuket, Thailand, which provides the intoxicating setting for a lively romp of a poetry anthology by a trio of established poets who span the globe. There is plenty of sunshine and blue sky here — and, somewhere in the sand, there is apparently also Wi-Fi, for amid the exotic backdrop, these poems possess a prominent Internet presence; in fact, there is a great sense of both global and emotional connectedness that runs throughout the book. So let’s take a journey!

The three featured poets are Vaughan Rapatahana (Hong Kong), Niall McGrath (Ireland), and Jerome Brooke (Thailand). Each one of these poets bears a distinctive voice in his own right, but somehow, collectively, their poems meld together in a sequence that makes the collection particularly satisfying. Despite some dialectical differences (I admit to having Googled the phrase “tuk tuk” in the title poem by Rapatahana), even a bona fide New Yorker like me was able to find common ground and resonance here.  In Rapatahana’s spare, but substantive, poem “lines on loss”:

brush

away

these tears.

they are not mine,

I disown them.

only borrowed

for a while

to reveal

raging

sorrow . . .

Tears are universal, as is the heartbreaking loneliness that lies, if one reads between the lines, beneath the gaiety and frolic of these poems, perhaps buried momentarily in the hot sand. In fact, the most notable aspect of this collection, as a whole, is the remarkable fact that poems which emanate from distant lands can feel so familiar no matter where one resides.

Niall McGrath’s work, meanwhile, depicts one who is hunted and stalked. In his poem “Outlet”:

Cubs queue before tents pitched

as if at a jousting tournment that reek

of hot nuts, sauce-drizzled crepes and candy floss

while their dams loll in herds sipping Wolf Blassand

and nibbling paninis as the sires munch

chips and steak, supping at beer pitchers.

Feasting aside, McGrath is also the link to pop culture — his poems evidence an obsession with video games, replete with superheroes and villains. And his poems, too, bespeak abject loneliness, which his cyber life, if anything, magnifies, but this despair is offset by the poem “Aristocrats,” and though the names “Aoife” and “Declan” may sound foreign to American ears, its theme of youthful college hoopla delivers a large dollop of recognition.

Whereas his fellow collaborators subscribe adamantly to free verse, Jerome Brooke’s work harkens back to a time when meter and rhyme were the order of the day in poetry. Don’t underestimate this — rhyme is not particularly easy to pull off in an effective and non-clichȅd way, but Brooke is skillful at this, making it seem subtle and effortless. Brooke transports us to the realm of fantasy, a world of iron ships, nobility, and courtly love. The poem “Concubine” (which is one of Brooke’s non-rhyming poems) is written in a subservient feminine voice, with an unmistakably highly charged eroticism:

A handful of copper coins,

Man of the West;

My red blood covers my rags,

Cruel Master

Especially for an anthology of such brevity, there are quite a number of memorable gems in “Karon Beach” which transcend geographical boundaries and captivate the heart with their sage aphorisms. These poets deserve wide exposure — if anything, the limited number of poems contained in the collection serves to tempt the reader, making one eager to read more than just a sampling from all three poets. In short, “Karon Beach” is an unusually lively blend of sophistication, modern-day technology, and old-world romance and splendor.

In short, it demonstrates how poetry can cross oceans.So do take the journey. But, beware the undertow!

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