After reading Nicholas Trandahl’s second collection of poetry, Think of Me, I was immediately drawn to the words of the poet, Gregory Orr: “The survival value of personal lyric… is to help us express and regulate our emotional lives, which are confusing and sometimes opaque to us.”
All of us experience pain of some kind. All of us carry around emotional baggage that we sometimes have trouble unpacking. To heal, some of us seek a therapist. Some of us visit a priest or a spiritual guru. Some of us try and tough it out on our own through meditation and exercise. But Trandahl writes. His words are clear and accessible and bursting with emotion. He humbly opens his soul to us and punches us in the gut on every page. He may not have the answers to life’s problems, nor does he claim to have them, but his writing can inspire courage for those of us struggling in an often perplexing and disquieting world.
So intrigued by Trandahl’s honest and simple word choices, I devoured the 137 pages of his book in one day. The collection forced me to evaluate my own tumultuous, yet adventurous life. I reflected on where I had lived, who I had loved, my mistakes and successes, my sufferings and regrets, and my plans for the future. The poem, “Cusp,” struck me right away with the lines: “I bought that acoustic guitar/when I was completely broken.” And then Trandahl provided the reason why he bought the guitar in the first place: “My first marriage was aflame.” Music calms the nerves and enlivens the soul.
I remember the first time I picked up a pair of drum sticks and jammed away all my troubles in a small corner of my den. I remember coming home one day and finding my first wife gone, never to return, and me sitting on the sofa with eyes as pale as the light of a dying fire. Trandahl’s words, in hindsight, helped me understand the reason for such suffering: “I was on the cusp of something better.” Indeed. We are both now in a loving marriage. Our wives see past our scars and, with devoted hearts, love us unconditionally.
Trandahl and I share another commonality other than suffering through a hurtful first marriage. We are travelers. Between us, we have been to all four corners of the earth. However, our experiences, both existential and spiritual, are quite different but, even so, I think, have comparable endings. In his poem, “Nightmare in Qatar,” Trandahl writes: “There are no gods here—/only punishment/and solitude.” And in the poem, “But Still,” he writes: “The bottom is falling out/of the whole fucking world.”
The world can be a nasty place at times. Even living in solitude can lead to loneliness and despair. Needless to say, not all of us are born to be hermits. But I am also prompted to listen to Orr’s wise deduction: “solitude can be an opportunity to renew one’s powers by withdrawing into the self.” And though Trandahl sees the world as harsh or unbearable at times, it is clear that he withdraws deep within himself in order to break the stranglehold of an often unforgiving world.
I find hope in his words, not despair. And the hope he reveals and inspires is an expression in the search for those gods. As a former Benedictine monk, I find comfort in saying that the “gods” revealed to me the miraculous beauty of Belmont Abbey Basilica. There I discovered the God of faith, hope, and love, the three cardinal virtues everyone either knowingly seeks or, by God’s grace, are inexplicably revealed to them. Trandahl seems to have found God in the miraculous beauty of the natural world. In the poem, “Everything Natural,” for example, Trandahl writes: “These woods are church then, I suppose—/the fervent cast of divinity./And everything natural is blessed/and is also a blessing.”
I believe the crux of the book is found in the poem, “Truth,” where Trandahl writes: “I just don’t have any idea/why I’m still seeking for something—.” All that can be certain is that he is seeking something—a form of truth, I’d say—by writing. Though Trandahl and I have never met in person, I feel connected to him in some way. When I read his poetry, I recognize comparable questions from my own writing. Most importantly, I recognize the effort we put forth in our work in order to understand the meaning behind life’s trials and hardships. Put simply, we are contemplatives. But it doesn’t matter if the truth we seek is found in a church or some secluded forest. All that matters is that we learn about the world and our ourselves.
I want to thank Trandahl for writing this book. He has given me renewed inspiration, not only as a poet, but as an artist.
Matthew A. Hamilton holds a MFA from Fairfield University and a MLIS from St. John’s University. He is a 6- time Pushcart Prize nominee. His chapbook, The Land of the Four Rivers, published by Cervena Barva Press, won the 2013 Best Poetry Book from Peace Corps Writers. His second poetry collection, Lips Open and Divine, was published in 2016. He and his wife live in Richmond, VA. You can contact him through his website: http://matthewahamilton.com/