Thorns, Hearts and Thistles
By Rose Blackthorn
$5.99; 100 pages; February, 2015
Rose Blackthorn’s poetry collection, Thorns, Hearts and Thistles, envelopes readers in a gothic retelling of painful memories and sorrowful recollections. Taking place in dark, atmospheric settings such as haunted houses or sullied gardens, these places evoke feelings of loss, melancholy, and woe as readers are transferred into the world of memento mori as they sift through stories of the absent, the forgotten, and the dead. Reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Blackthorn’s poetry reads as a morbid seduction to the entanglement of lost loves and eternal longing as she tugs on the heartstrings of her readers, sometimes with a gentle caress, other times, with a strict urgency.
The collection is broken up into three parts: Thorns, Hearts, and Thistles. I found this to be a clever structure, in addition to a clever metaphor for how the arc of the book is structured, because it makes a statement for how tenuous matters of the heart truly are. The first section is dedicated to Thorns, which are phallic in their physical image, in addition to their purpose, as they stab, penetrate, and invade. The thorn is used as a symbol for the invasion of the female form, but Blackthorn uses this in a psychological effort to show how the memory of someone, or some event, permeates and therefore saturates our physical response to sadness, and more often than not, regret. This concept is portrayed in poems such as “Inevitable as the Incoming Tide,” “The Offering,” and “Ramble On,” as they each instill the initial jab of heartbreak into their characters.
Blackthorn uses a variety of poetic techniques, some of which I think work very strongly to her advantage, as she moves into part two: Hearts. This section describes the sense of brooding that gothic literature is so well-known for, as her characters deal with issues of obsession and personal reflection as they move through what appears to be cycles of emotional discomfort. At times, Blackthorn uses rhymes—both near and end—within her pieces, and while this isn’t a personal preference of mine, I think that it does evoke the essence of a haunted lullaby. However, for me, the sing-songy nature of some of those poems—in both the first and second section–lessened the intensity of what the collection was doing for me on an emotional level, and I wish that the second section of the book would have been a little longer so it could have tackled the question of feminine identity a bit more.
But as she moves into the third, and final part of the book, Thistles, I think something really beautiful happens here as Blackthorn tackles the idea of a woman in distress by comparing her to a protected and defensive flower in bloom. I think the thistle as a final image for the readers is a really smart choice because it focuses on vulnerability, which has been a strong theme throughout the collection, but it also ends with strength and sense of empowerment as is evident in poems such as “Contemplating Corners” and “In the Thistle.” The essence of hope, especially in dark literature, is so important, and I think Blackthorn tackles that balance between light and dark nicely in this collection as it reads like a soft rumble of thunder after a light spring shower.
–Stephanie M. Wytovich