Trio cover
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Trio cover

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Trio is collection of 120 sonnets in eight parts, revealing, frame by frame, a married fortysomething female narrator in love with two younger men—an intellectual and a dancer—and torn between the claims of body and mind.

In the tradition of Renaissance sonnet sequences from Petrarch onward, the narrator’s love objects are constantly before her eyes, and thus before ours, creating compassion, comedy, and desire. They are real and imaginary, opposite and complementary, present and unavailable, autonomous and dependent. Tolmie’s characters circle and shadow one another in every dance, spinning until fantasy becomes flesh and entanglement. In immortalizing the beloved, she draws on the power of both poetic and human reproduction.

Like the contact improvisation modern dance form that influences the collection, these poems are both expressive and analytical. Through a singular feminist revision of a traditional poetic form, they tell the story—sometimes raunchy, sometimes crushingly sad—of a strong protagonist and the predicament she’s in.

A joint launch for Trio and Tablature by Bruce Whiteman (McGill-Queen’s 2015) was held at Ben McNally Books in Toronto in May 2015.

Awards and Nominations

Trio has been shortlisted for the 2016 Pat Lowther Memorial Award by the League of Canadian Poets, along with The Wrong Cat by Lorna Crozier (McClelland & Stewart), calling down the sky by Rosanna Deerchild (Bookland Press), Terra Incognita by Adebe DeRango-Adem (INNANA Publications and Education Inc.), The Poison Colour by Maureen Hynes (Pedlar Press), and Marry & Burn by Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing). The winner will be announced on Sunday, 19 June 2016 during the Canadian Writers’ Summit. Congratulations to the nominees!

Reviews

From a review by Shane Neilson in The Fiddlehead 268 (Summer 2016), 172–174

Tolmie writes an amiable, largely enjambed sonnet that, albeit single-voiced, is quite conversationally written. The book-length sequence has a good story with a narrative propelled by the relational nature of Tolmie’s work. The poet writes out a middle-aged woman’s desire relative to a husband and a lover, and the writing is frank and sexual…. Best of all, though, Tolmie writes some incredible individual sonnets. Her pith and modulation of a vernacular alternating with a more formal tone is expert and she can, and will, break your heart. The speaker knows herself and her men, and knows the why of both. That self-knowledge is bound to be painful sometimes, and it achieves beauty in many of Trio’s pieces.

From a review by Karen Burnham in Strange Horizons, 4 April 2016

[T]his collection is about all the different ways you can be in love with two people and watch each of them doing things with you and without you and how you feel about them. The feeling of dance, of sex, of conversation; of watching someone you love get married to someone else, of the thrill of courtship or adultery, of sex, love, and bitterness…. In each stanza the passion of the poet shines through. Another thing that helps is Tolmie’s choice of narrator: a middle-aged woman who can laugh at the drama even while she feels it; a woman with two children already, who faces a third pregnancy late in the book with equanimity and ambiguity. It’s not a voice we’ve heard too often, and one we need to hear more of.

From a review by Michael Dennis in Today’s Book of Poetry, 3 November 2015

Sarah Tolmie's Trio is a marvel. Clearly Tolmie is a lover of a more formal poetic tradition, and she honours it, these poems are submarine tight—but for someone who loves the form she sure delights in rendering it invisible.

Trio reads more like a romantic and sad pillow book. A few brisk kicks to the heart and a somewhat lusty frisk. Tolmie uses these sonnets like bullets from a poetry gun. She is trying to navigate the bloody journey that runs between her heart and two others. But make no mistake, Tolmie’s the boss. It is a strong woman’s journey.

Trio Prize

The Trio Prize has been awarded to Erica de la Cruz for her musical setting of one of the sonnets from Trio. Congratulations to Erica!