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Reflections Off Every Surface
By Alex Carrigan
As we all begin to hunker down in our homes for the foreseeable future, renewing our streaming services, playing the new Animal Crossing game, and managing the difficulties of telecommuting (if we still have a job that lets us do this), it's become increasingly clear that this is a time for self-reflection. It's a time where we all think about how easily our routines have been disrupted, how much we've wanted to do with our lives, what we're missing out on and what we lose in this pandemic. While some of us may simply be looking for projects and activities to kill the time between waking up and going to sleep, it's important to see what realizations about ourselves and our lives come about in this time.
This kind of reflection is instrumental in the composition of poet and teacher Thaddeus Rutkowski's newest poetry collection, Tricks of Light. Tricks of Light is a series of poems-in-the-moment, where each poem describes a short scene or passing thought. These can be as short as just three lines, with not a single poem in the book going over a full page in length. In his poems, Rutkowski reflects on various aspects of his life, from his upbringing as a half-white, half-Chinese person, to moments in his day. These ruminations can cover anything from his pet turtle, to conversations with his family, to even his thoughts about pennies on the sidewalk.
Rutkowski's poetry is a vivid and impacting work, showing how his use of brevity can make even the most banal of events in his daily life seem colorful or more grandiose then they are. "Coffee Shop Encounter" describes the sort of odd coffee shop encounter that you would go home to talk about over dinner. "Foreign Fillings" shows Rutkowski's thought process over being asked "if the fillings in [his] teeth were done in a different country." Even pieces like "Noise to My Ears"read more like Rutkowski is describing his opinion on the different kinds of buskers he sees in his commute. "My ear is not trained, but I can tell when what I'm hearing is unpleasant."
What does make this collection more of a summation of Rutkowski is how easily many of these poems flow together. Some poems continue thoughts from previous pieces, or bring up recurring topics. Many of the poems discuss Rutkowski's relationship with his family and identity. He uses his poetry to think about his Asian heritage, such as in "Where I'm From" where he writes "I was raised as white, but I'm not white./My father saw no difference between races,/while my mother never forgot hers."Other poems recollect moments he spends with his wife and daughter, showing how his relationships with his family members affect his point of view, while also providing alternate points of view for him to consider.
Tricks of Light is a very thoughtful and relatable collection of poetry because it asks the reader to think of the minor moments in their lives that could be more meaningful then they realize. It's a demonstration of how every conversation, every encounter, and every detail we come across could have more to it, and about how we recall these moments can say more about us than we realize. While we're in isolation or practicing social distancing, this book can make the reader ponder these moments or images that were once fleeting, but remain vivid through some small imprint in their mind. So while it may be easy to go stir crazy during this chaotic time, Rutkowski's collection is a gentle reminder that everything we do and see can be something of beauty or of personal relevance, even if we're not able to see it right away.
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