Review: “Incident Reports” by Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson

Incident Reports - A collection of poetry by Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson

Publisher: Hyacinth Girl Press | Author: Caitlin Elizabeth ThomsonMore: Goodreads

Incident Reports. The phrase is something of a dry and oddly-menacing title for Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson’s second chapbook, released recently by Hyacinth Girl Press. It made me think that perhaps, on opening the cover, I might be presented with a series of case files or a run of poems that concerned themselves with the horrific nature of accidents.

The focus of the collection is, however, rather unexpected. I think the poet herself explains it best. On her website, Thomson states that she wished to write about a “possible apocalypse”.

The word apocalypse is used all the time these days. It can involve zombies, killer plagues, global warming, or any number of other things. I am more interested in the Greek origin of the word, which means uncovering, a revelation of truth, a tearing of the veil, from one time to another. Under this definition the renaissance would be a time of Apocalypse. My poems are about a very different, theoretical, societal shift.

Indeed, change is at the heart of these poems. Many seem to take place in the frozen moments after a monumental shift of some kind. They are still poems, quiet poems, but nevertheless they are anything but peaceful. The sense of shock is tangible even in the more abstract entries, when it can be difficult to identify the exact nature of the tragedy that has occurred.

I’m not a fan of abstraction, however, and so as far as I’m concerned the better of these poems are those that are clearest about what cataclysmic event they are charting the aftermath of. When Thomson puts her cards on the table and declares the nature of the apocalypse about which she writes, her imagination shines. Take “A Post Lunar World” as an example. In this poem it’s abundantly clear (even from the title) what has changed and what has been lost. With that revelation out the way, Thomson is free to deftly explore the experience of a mother trying to explain the nature of the moon to her two mystified children. The result is heartbreaking.

My eldest asks, How could you sleep?
How did they stay up?

To draw one would only confuse them further.

Or else there’s the long poem from which the collection takes its title. “Incident Reports: The Vanishing” is a stunningly novel piece which – through a variety of case files – charts the events that transpire when all at once, and for seemingly no reason, a huge chunk of the world’s population suddenly disappears. The skies fall dark. Washing up is left undone in the sink. Houses sit empty. Fires burn with no firefighters left to combat them. Melancholic as the poem is, it’s also incredibly beautiful.

The same holds true for the majority of poems in this collection. Whether it’s the disappearance of the moon, or any number of smaller and more personal incidents, Thomson’s reports catalogue a series of apocalypses that are eminently worth exploring.

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Christopher Frost now lives in Stoke-on-Trent, after studying at nearby Keele University. He is a freelance writer, and spends most of his time working for a local charity. In his spare moments he reads furiously, and writes book reviews.