Russell Thornton


Griffin Poetry Prize 2015
Canadian Shortlist

Book: The Hundred Lives

Poet: Russell Thornton

Publisher: Quattro Books

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.



Russell Thornton has published five previous books of poetry, with House Built of Rain being shortlisted for the BC Book Prize and the ReLit Poetry Award and Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Award. Thornton won the League of Canadian Poets National Contest in 2000 and The Fiddlehead magazine’s Ralph Gustafson Prize in 2009. He lives in North Vancouver.

Judges’ Citation

“The poems in The Hundred Lives burn with a rare blend of rhythmic intensity and hard-earned experience that make them at once timeless and contemporary; on page after page, in line after line, we hear the ancient, communal music of language sung through a consciousness of maturity, loss, and restless spiritual hunger. In a very real sense, Thornton’s lyric narratives and dialogues – of travel, of Lazarus and the Song of Songs, of romantic love – dramatically enact Robert Frost’s notion that the greatest of all attempts is ‘to say matter in terms of spirit, or spirit in terms of matter, to make the final unity’. Thornton speaks with utter conviction and credibility to forge a personal vision, a ‘pathway through the apple’, to an always-richer understanding of human experience. Whether the poems take us to Greece, where gypsy women move ‘like living tarot in the street’, or to the memory of a beloved grandmother ‘out in the sailing ship of her wedding dress. Her ashes’, always The Hundred Lives puts us in intimate touch with ‘first fire, first waters’, with the tenderness and pain of vital engagement.”


In The Hundred Lives Russell Thornton illuminates the intricate imaginative orders of love at work within an individual life. From poems set in the eastern Mediterranean, with its abiding reverberations of the ancient Greek world, to a series of sonnet responses to the Gospel story of Lazarus, a lyric narrative engagement with the mythic-erotic drama of the Biblical Song of Songs, to intensely personal poems that explore love and loss, this collection highlights the mystery of the interplay between inner and outer energies at the core of human experience.

Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.

Russell Thornton reads Lemon Groves

Lemon Groves

The horizon a burnt-out eye socket,
the sea a throng of mouths wounding themselves against sand –
the only shelter was inside the car,
so we drove down the peninsula just to drive,
until we came to a tract of green trees
running inland from the road and to the land’s end.
We parked and went in amongst lemon groves,
vast, flowering lemon groves releasing fragrance for miles –
where we walked as if under the spell of the scent,
and where nothing could have been so apparent, so destined as this:
that within the scent-abounding white flowers
and the shade-giving leaves, lay the ripe lemons, the pert yellow spheres;
that within the fruit, within the sudden dream
arriving at the end of the way through the bewildering black
glare of the sun, shone the light of the lemon,
and we would stand finally in the bliss-shedding ray.
There, clasped beyond burning sight, we could dwell
in each other as in a cool sanctuary
where whatever we knew of bitterness and hurt
could become the pure decision in us, nourishing and healing,
the secret, in the midst of burning change,
which would make us clear, clean-edged, purged of doubt.


From The Hundred Lives by Russell Thornton
Copyright © Russell Thornton 2014

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