This Far North by Jason Tandon, Reviewed by Robyn Earhart
This Far North Jason Tandon Black Lawrence Press 2023 ISBN: 978-1-62557-048-2 83 pages
In Jason Tandon’s fifth collection of poetry This Far North, Tandon’s stripped down, bare bones, minimalist writing style poignantly enriches his philosophical musings on life. This Far North is partitioned into three sweeping movements that each contain a single poem titled “Poem.” As pillars in these sections, these three self-titled poems highlight repetitions strumming throughout the collection on families or collective units, childhood and childlike wonder, looking outward, being prepared and determination.
From the second “Poem” he writes,
When I stop moving this pencil across the paper—
scratching in the attic.
Tandon implores the reader to forego self-centered thinking: This world is not about you; you are a mere fraction of what encapsulates the world. Just because you stop something, doesn’t mean the world does too.
Similar to his previous collection The Actual World, Tandon often brings the reader into his mind at work as the Poet, another way in which he creates multi-dimension in his writing. From “I Came Here” he states,
I came here to write a poem and all I can do is look at the beam of a solstice moon lying across the lake.
In “Not Writing” which he credits to a poem of the same title written by the illustrious Jane Kenyon, Tandon finds community in the solitary act of writing. Using an architectural space as the centering place (a wasp nest/home in Kenyon’s, “our lone / delinquent dock” in Tandon’s), Tandon watches as men wearing waders in a churning body of water secure the dock for safe passage. By sharing these glimmers of the writing process with plentiful and ripe symbolism, he delivers an extraordinary gift to readers in producing a poem from distraction. His way of folding readers into the writer’s life isn’t meta, rather Tandon is providing a gentle reminder that the eye and the mind don’t always agree with what the heart wants. At times it is necessary to pivot from set intentions. We must place trust in ourselves and be open to new ways of seeing.
A reflective modality is par for the course in This Far North where Tandon’s brief and lyrical meditations create riveting connections to elements of life’s existence. The titles of poems in this collection position the reader in proximal distance to the speaker serving as makers for where the speaker is, what the speaker is doing, what the speaker sees. With delightful precision, poems quickly shift from allegiance of the speaker’s personal distance to a more radically universal approach, something akin to a spiritual understanding. From “Sunrise, Five Below” the question of future-based speculation (“What do you want to be / when you grow up?”) conjures an outwardly perspective:
The frozen tracks of snowshoes heading into the spruce.
If the trace of one’s foot is impermanent, then rendering them frozen creates a semi-impermanence. Leading them outward to a forest disrupts their connections to time and space. In Tandon’s collection, brevity allows for the reader to slip in and slip out. A sensorial snapshot, melodious fragmentations, brief moments captured for posterity.
In Loons,” Tandon considers the grace we deserve,
Why is it such a pleasure when they dive to scan the surface for where they might reappear and be wrong everytime?
Writing, children and parents, the natural elements of changing seasons are all threaded throughout the collection and crafted into richly construed images. To go north represents a cardinal direction, a symbol of the passage of time based around the Earth rotating on its axis. Like the rising sun swelling and expanding, so to do Tandon’s poetic representations of what it means when men dismiss childish folklore, or to imagine the physical limitations pressed upon their children in times of horrific terrorist acts. What changes become of our understanding, to our interpretations of the most banal, and the most shocking, when the veil is lifted?
Sometimes it’s the smallest of creatures, the most seemingly simplest of minds that can make us understand. In the third “Poem,” Tandon writes,
Each time the chipmunk scurries from under the deck to a hole in the yard it carries a nut the size of its head between its paws.
Sometimes it takes a chipmunk hoarding a cache of food for winter to help us understand our place within humanity. To be ready. That small things create big things. That one impossible feat can make a difference in the world.
Don’t take for granted the minimalist appearance of This Far North. These poems in Jason Tandon’s collection are timeless and prodigious with a thundering, spiritual stirring of heart and mind.
Robyn Earhart‘s work has appeared in Barren Magazine, Columbia Journal, and the Under Review where she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her husband and pets.