Book Review – ‘Isthmus’ by Margaret King

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

Margaret King’s Isthmus is a collection of poetry set against the background of the Great Lakes district of the United States. It is this stunning geography that sets the scene for her exploration of inner landscapes, and the links between those and our external environments. 

The relationship between the inner and outer worlds, and how they mirror each other, is captured beautifully in King’s poignant poetry. In ‘Midwest: For the Lovers’ she writes:

The universe keeps expanding 

Which means

We’re all just moving further apart

But what I can’t bear to admit

Is that if I’m in the middle of it all 

Everything’s just moving

Further apart

From me.

The imagery is rich as King weaves haunting tapestries of rich inner life:

The massive shapes of bison floating

Through waves of tallgrass prairie

Geologic concretions as colorful as any coral colony 

Birds as fish, shoals on air currents

She draws on these vivid descriptions as ways of linking internal sensation to the tangible. The duality here is clear: land and sea, earth and spirit. This is an effective way of giving shape and substance to that which can be difficult to define in any universally understandable way. The landscape is a place transformed by external pressure and this is a perfect allegory for emotional change and development. Margaret perfectly captures the experience of journeying to new places and finding new perspectives as life moulds and shapes our world views. The passage of time feels visceral in these poems; King reflects on past loves and travels, and how they’ve contributed to her evolution. The change is not just in her relationships with others, and with the world, but also the relationship with herself.

The strength in Margaret’s writing is its accessibility. It weaves between quite literary and an almost conversational tone; in some poems there is a sense of the stream-of -consciousness approach, while others read like love letters to the earth itself. The free verse style is prevalent in this collection and seems to best suit King’s language; the absence of more traditional structures allows her to use the words that convey her thoughts and experiences most effectively. 

Margaret King’s collection captures the relationship between the inner and outer world perfectly. Our experiences shape us as mountains, valleys and lakes are carved and sculpted by the passage of time and by their interactions with the elements. Acknowledging this progression allows us to draw from it as we reflect upon ourselves and our worlds, and their influences on each other. King’s final lines sum up this link beautifully:

The journeys of your thoughts have gone beyond abroad 

And taken wing to unseen worlds, frontiers, watersheds

And lived to tell the tale.


Isthmus is available for purchase from Amazon.

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