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Review: A Ghost in my House, by Lorna Thorpe

[...] and Lorna Thorpe greatly differ thematically and stylistically, but they share some important skills. Both incorporate an abundance of precise detail, vivifying the work with a sharper sense of place and time, and both show a good sense of rhythm, creating well-paced poems. These qualities alone made [...] good reads.

Thorpe's A Ghost in my House appears to act as a kind of memoir. The first section explores a woman's hunger for romantic and sexual love at different times in her life; the second provides episodes of the woman's childhood through to the present, implicitly providing reasons for the speaker's drive for affection; and the third presents the speaker leaving the wild life behind and facing heart trouble and thus her own mortality. Thus A Ghost in my House establishes Thorpe as a poet of personal narrative, but unlike fellow practioner Sharon Olds, Thorpe shows more interest in record than revelation.

The first section relates the speaker's (often frustrated) longing for love. Thorpe creates energy through active verbs, as in the collection's opening lines:

Bombed on Tuinal and Newcastle Brown,
Mad Eddie steams into our room, skids
to halt at our bed and throws back the sheet,
squealing, Ah, look at the babes in the wood.

As the poem implies soon after, this is the past remembered in such vividness as to seem present, and even the following poems in the past tense will gain from their specific detail and piling of verbs a present-tense momentum. Pursuing love appears equivalent to a search for intense feeling.

Part of the pleasure in A Ghost in my House is Thorpe's sense of humour, a capacity she will hopefully put to more use in future work. The speaker often makes wry observations of others, as when a blind date insists he is baggage free only to talk on and on about the night his ex-wife left him. Sometimes the other is a past self; in Sex Education, the speaker relates when she learned belly buttons / had nothing to do with it.

As the book comes closer to the present and a more mature speaker in its final section, some poems lose vigour without the narrative drive or palpable conflict that propelled previous pieces. In Café Le Figaro, for example, the speaker imagines ghosts of the beat poets in a New York café and concludes with wistfulness for her younger self. At such times it seems that Thorpe, so comfortable with narrative, has yet to apprehend lyric.

It is all the better, then, that A Ghost in my House concludes with poems about the speaker's barely escaping death from a closed artery. This Old Heart of Mine begins with the flip Sure it's been broke a thousand times / but never quite as literally / as that Sunday morning but cannot sustain that tone; fear of death concludes the poem. In an implicit response, the last two pems imagine a lively funeral and wake and the speaker as a ghost in her own house, respectively. Thus he speaker does not come to a reconciliation with or acceptance of death but flatly refuses it, as though the vitality of the speaker's life could keep oblivion at bay. By the end of A Ghost in my House, with all its energy and engagement, one can see her point.