A Review: August, and the snow has just melted by Julia Johanne Tolo

August, and the snow has just melted, a twenty-six page chapbook of eighteen poems published by Bottle Cap Press and written by Julia Johanne Tolo, is a book of loss, identity and place. The first poem, a love letter of sorts, written by an outsider in America, sets a reflective and somewhat lonesome tone, which is sustained throughout.

I tried to explain that I don’t know much
about Thanksgiving
maybe we can talk about
Christmas or
Easter instead, I said
something we have
in common, but
the subway wouldn’t listen
I wanted to say
that I thought about you, then
and after, thought about the
streetlights that never work

the crime
the park around the castle and all of
those rapes (we remembered
for a little while)
(from Dear Oslo, p5)

When it comes to place within literature, or any other art form, geographic whereabouts becomes secondary; the artist’s priority is to establish that place in the minds of her/his audience. Be it New York, Oslo, or some place unknown, the defining element of the artist’s success is rooted in an ability to remove the audience from their surroundings and take them on a journey. This is exactly what Tolo does as she examines the familiar in an unfamiliar way. This set of poems is far more than a mere travel log; Tolo, indirectly asks if a place makes its people or if a people make their place. She questions what it means to be foreign. She recognises imagination, dreams and opinion as places of equal significance to those found on maps.

August, and the snow
has just melted
last year
is sighs away
(Cold Water quoted in full, p13)

In the poem, New York, we find our narrator sitting on a bench, dipping in and out of a book. She sees a playful family, watches them a while with a distant but definite  sense of connection. After reconnecting with her book, she looks up and the family is nowhere to be seen. The poem finishes mid sentence and finds its completion on the following page. And as the two poems, New York and Oslo, merge into one, the narrator’s perspective and the qualities that define place become subject for interpretation.

I look down into my book and when I look up they’ve gone
I’m in a different city in a different country in a
different person, this is a different book,
a different poem.
(from New York p15)

Tolo ruminates on the loss of a loved one as she tries, with limited success, to make sense of death. Through pleasant reminiscence and in the waking nightmare of insurmountable grief she finds profundity in the otherwise banal; coughing, walking the dog, and conversations that might be easily forgotten if they were not overcast by the shadow of death. While the pain here is shared, it is also all too aware of the singularity and devastation of death.

what fresh
hell
is this
everything
is beautiful
& heart breaking
(from Dinosaurs p26)

There is a strange type of humour at play within this collection which is hard to define. It isn’t about laughter, it is about common ground; a private joke stripped of its privacy. August, and the snow is just melting is a book about the perpetual outsider, the foreigner who, even at home, never quite manages to belong. It is mournful, reflective and revealing of urban loneliness. Julia Johanne Tolo is a poet of place, and it is a place where everything is beautiful and heart breaking.

Matthew J. Hall
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Matthew J. Hall

An avid reader, writer and reviewer of poetry and short fiction. Author of Blood Pudding Press 2015 chapbook contest winner, Pigeons and Peace Doves and The Human Condition is a Terminal Illness will soon be available through Bareback Press (2017).
Matthew J. Hall
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