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An Almost Pure Empty Walking, Tryfon Tolides

So, I’m not going to lie, I picked this book because of its title. I decided that “An Almost Pure Empty Walking” had to either be either really pretentious or just really meaningful. I’m glad to report it was the latter. Tryfon Tolides grew up in a small village in Greece before moving to America,  and most of his poetry reflects immigrant status. In his poetry, he explores themes including home and nationality, in addition to his more universal reflections on family. Tolides verse is simple, yet powerful with strong visual imagery conveying abstract emotion. Tolides was a winner of the 205 National Poetry Series of this collection, which I would definitely recommend to everyone is class.

One of my favorite poems from the collection is, “Returning from Greece.”

A deep blue luminous dye surrounds the edges

of the land. Hours later, we touch down in New York.

The water is gray. We are tired

and begin to forget, again. Without

knowing it we march off in the various directions.

Like most of Tolides’ poems in the collection, this poem is very economical. Regardless, the words are deliberate and manage to convey the feelings of a reverse homecoming. Tolides is able to convey the strange disorientation that accompanies airplane travel. Tolides compares the water of the two places he has called home, which gives the reader not only the writers associations with both locations, but also the view from the airplane window. In addition, Tolides’ recognition of unknowing forgetfulness that the speaker experiences after arriving in New York, serves as commentary on memory and also the duality of the speaker’s notions of home.

The first poem in Tolides’ collection is called “Immigrant.” He begins narrating a call from his mother,

“What is America?” she said. “A hole in the water.

What have we gained but poison and illness?”

Her whole message, a cry, though stilll she asked

what I would eat for lunch. Back in bed,

I listened awhile to the furnace. Then, dressed,

passed the same books and papers spread on the floor,

and out, to the snow, the crows in the park

The entire poem is only twelve lines long, with fairly regular measure. The character of the mother appears frequently in Tolides’ collection, which gives another voice to the immigrant experience. The difference in the speaker and the mother gives way to the interpretation of generational differences in immigration, but also touches more personally on the relationship between mothers and sons.

Also, throughout the collection Tolides’ provides images of silence. Tolides frequently slows the readers down (as in the last lines of the poem) with ordinary imagery, providing lasting depth. Any author able to make the transition from a phone call ridden with complaints to crows in the park, has a level of mastery and control in their language, as well as the ability to link imagery with moments of quiet meditation.

An Almost Empty Walking showcases Tolides abilities to vary his verse (poems appear of nearly every conceivable structure and line length), and his ability to convey an immigrants experience and search for American identity. I reccomend Tolides for both an outside look into American culture, and also for an example of the success of quiet verse. Bruce Smith says of the Tolides, “It takes a skillful musician, or poet, to play quietly,” and I couldn’t agree more.