Lonely Earth by MaryJane Thomson

Lonely Earth. MaryJane Thomson. (Wellington: HeadworX Publishers, 2015). ISBN 9780473339739. RRP $30. 86pp. 

Reviewed by Alex Lister 


Lonely Earth by MaryJane Thomson is a collection of poems that spans ideas of space and being, of decay and loneliness. Thomson has captured the intense and grandiose feeling that comes with the realisation that the space you inhabit is much bigger than yourself. This is not a state of grandeur; instead, Thomson uses this feeling to encourage the reader to experience moments of deep reflection.   

Thomson’s second collection of work focuses on issues of the 21st century. Capitalism, environmentalism, duality, and loneliness make up many of her thematic explorations — and given the current times, these issues can be overwhelming. However, Thomson handles their complexity with expertise, by allowing the reader to feel the weight of these issues without being weighed down by them.

The common cliché of humans is that we are curious and ever expanding, searching for our place in the stars. In Lonely Earth, Thomson suggests the opposite — rather than gaze outward, she asks us to look inward. This task that Thomson asks of the reader is best reflected in her smaller poems. These are short, impactful works that either make us question who we are, or what our place in the world is — such as “History’s shame”:  

Looking down the countryside,
Work is freedom.  

Bombs dropping overhead,
Which war was that?  
(“History’s shame”)  

This is where Thomson’s artistry truly shines — creating poignant works with only a few sentences. We’re encouraged to look at ourselves not as the picture of the puzzle, but merely a piece of it. That in order to understand the world we inhabit, we must first understand ourselves. Works like these take their place alongside larger scale poems, allowing for a diverse and enjoyable reading experience throughout the collection.   

Thomson’s understanding of the vastness of space and time culminates with the importance of connection and meaningful experience. Lonely Earth is an apt title because this Earth is lonely, and the more we get to experience, the more we want. But there are small moments of stillness that grant us the peace to appreciate the life that we have. The poem that allowed me to realise this is “Meaning of Life”:   

Searching the trash for your life,

Parking your car near a cliff,
(“Meaning of Life”)  

This poem’s intention is not to show someone at a low point. Rather, we see what it means to be alive. Life is not about searching for a purpose; it is about contemplation and using reflection to become your best self. I think this is the point that Thomson tries to make throughout this collection.

You don’t need to understand everything, as the world can be a daunting and confusing place. But by taking time to look inward, to be honest with yourself — maybe then the Earth will be a little bit less lonely. And reading this collection is a good place to start. 

Alex Lister is a postgraduate student at Otago University, who enjoys poetry as a productive means of procrastination.

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