By Claire Thom
Illustrated by Colin Thom
Independently published (2021)
Review by Mary Ann Burrows
Ever Forward, written by Claire Thom, and illustrated by her father, Colin Thom, is a delightful collection of haiku poetry and watercolours. The book contains 14 haiku and 14 watercolours, each one dedicated to a different animal. Claire´s literary background is an MA Hons degree in Spanish and French literature, theatre, poetry and cinema from Edinburgh University. She then went on to study secondary teaching. Five of Claire´s poems from another collection were long listed for the Erbacce Poetry prize 2021 and she has also had another of her poems published in the online poetry magazine, Lighten Up. She currently teaches English in the south of Spain. Colin, now retired, studied architecture at Glasgow School of Art. This is Claire and Colin´s first book and it was completed during the pandemic in 2020. Separated by almost 2,500km, Claire and Colin put this interesting project together digitally. In conversation with Claire, she told me that she would send her father each haiku as it was written and he would use that as the inspiration for his watercolours
In September 2019, Claire spent two weeks visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and Kanazawa in Japan and it was there that she learnt about the tradition of haiku poetry. She began to read about this poetic form and was particularly fascinated by its brevity and careful selection of each word. She told me she also felt connected to this form as she enjoys spending time in nature and with animals. This was the initial inspiration for her collection and in my view each poem reflects her ability to use haiku as a way of capturing her observations of different animals in a unique and sometimes comical way. Claire´s book explains clearly the form of haiku and in my opinion this makes it very accessible to readers of all ages. Claire particularly enjoys the poetry of Matsuo Basho and in fact wrote her own version, ‘Swimming Lessons’, of one of his well-known poems about a frog jumping into a pond. This is the final poem in Claire´s book and is followed by a delightful watercolour of Matsuo Basho by her father. I found this to be a touching tribute to one of the masters of the haiku form.
Another aspect of the book which I particularly enjoyed is the ‘Dear Reader’ page at the start of the collection. This asks the reader to take their time reading and contemplating the poetry and illustrations. I felt that Claire was inviting me to treat the book as a type of meditation, which I found instantly calming and comforting. In a chaotic and stressful world, Claire and Colin have created an opportunity for readers to slow down and take a breath. An explanation of the title Ever Forward is also given on this page and I found that to be quite poignant. Claire reminds us that animals are always moving forward with strength and determination and that all creatures great and small have their important role to play.
I also really liked the layout and the large size of this book. There are blank pages throughout, which as an artist and writer myself, I felt was an opportunity for me to write down my own thoughts and a few sketches as I sat and contemplated Claire’s words and looked at her father’s illustrations. I really enjoyed reading each poem and then turning the page, curious to see what Claire’s father had painted on the next page. In fact, on the ‘Dear Reader’ page, Claire asks the reader to try and guess each animal in the haiku before turning the page to reveal the illustration, which really appealed to me and I think would be great fun for younger readers too.
Another aspect of this book which I found particularly moving is the final ‘With thanks…’ page. Claire gives thanks to the animals that inspired each haiku and also to Matsuo Basho. I feel that this is a perfect way to end this collection and again reminds the reader of how important animals are, something which I feel we need reminding of as our planet suffers the damaging effects of climate change.
My favourite haiku in the book is called 'Ever Forward’, which is about a guide dog. Colin was in fact a puppy walker with the Guide Dogs charity in the UK for 10 years, and each puppy went on to be a successful working guide. He also looked after two of the dogs when they were retired from guiding. Any profit made from sales of Claire and Colin´s self-published book will be given as a donation to this charity as it is a very worthy cause and one close to their hearts.
In my opinion, Ever Forward reflects Claire’s love for haiku and her creative ability as a poet and shows off her father's work as a talented watercolour artist beautifully. I highly recommend this book.