Multiple voices, viewpoints and experiences combine to make Marvin Thompson’s poetry collection, Road Trip, a powerful, sensitive and unforgettable read, writes our contributor, Shameera Nair Lin.
Content Warning: please note that this review features comments on sexual assault and issues of consent.
Marvin Thompson’s debut collection, Road Trip, is as perfectly titled as it has been structured. Throughout, the reader is set on a path of ambitious exploration – we experience the voices of Gerald Oswald Archibald Thompson, a young woman called Rochelle, Thompson’s children, a guilty man and Thompson himself. To craft such a dynamic range of perspectives within one collection is no easy task; Thompson takes on the challenge adroitly.
Although many poems within the collection are memorable – I can safely say I will be remembering ‘Rochelle’ and ‘The Many Reincarnations of Gerald Oswald Archibald Thompson’ for a long while – the two-part prose poem, ‘The Weight of the Night’, stands out in its disarming honesty. Written in the second-personal singular, the poetic voice is a man who comes to terms with admitting to his current fiancée, Lisa, that he had once engaged in ‘sex without proper consent’. The victim, Sara, has her words written in first-person. She is seen within the poem through the eyes of the man, but is shown to speak truthfully in her own words:
Eleven years ago, in my bedroom, you didn’t care enough about consent to stop. Do you know what I see when I look at our old selfies? Me with a rapist
This could be a product of the current climate in which we find ourselves, where issues of consent, sexual harassment and assault are spoken of more openly than in the past. However, I have yet to come across many pieces of literature where a woman is able to confront her rapist and have the conclusion to the story unfold in a way where the situation does not offer a clear resolution. The two-part poem depicts a situation that is certainly far too common in this world, where seemingly ‘decent men’ have engaged in emphatically wrong behaviour, with a nuance that does not seek to dramatize the narrative. For this alone, I will be sending this piece along to friends and acquaintances.
Thompson writes with loving introspection about his mixed-race children, Blackness being an integral thread to Thompson’s voice in every poem we read. Like any loving father, he worries about many things concerning his kids. Except, the poems also reflect a racialised anxiety that has no clear answer, one grounded in Britain. At one point, he wonders if Britain will ‘learn to love [his] children’s melanin?’. Sometimes he questions the motivation of his own actions. In ‘The one in which my children discuss jazz while we set out to watch The Lego Batman Movie in Blackwood’, he is listening to ‘Joe Harriott’s abstract jazz’ with his ‘Mixed Race children […] listening / to something [he] want[s] them to love: art that sings / Africa’s diaspora and raises skin to radiance.’ Jazz as a historically Black tradition is one filled with historical and cultural inheritance, and Thompson is keenly aware of where his passion rises from. The next moment, however, he wonders if wanting to share this love of jazz is ‘upbringing’ or ‘brainwashing’. Such anxiety is not something a non-Black father would ever have to grapple with, and Thompson’s personal heart in being open to the reader comes through with tenderness. As a reader, I can only appreciate the trust offered in these poems.
While Road Trip has fallen under the radar somewhat during the pandemic, I anticipate that the collection is merely the start of a long and beautiful journey for Marvin Thompson.