by Blair E. Vandehey
It was 2020 when Kamilla Tolnø shared a poetry tetralogy recounting her journey of healing from heartbreak and depression, the northern collection, with the world. From January to November, readers were introduced to the themes, struggles, and accomplishments of the author’s journey; the moon acts as a prologue, charting her path towards healing, the orchid recognizes our potential as humans to bloom into the best versions of ourselves, the ocean is an ode to human adaptability in a world that changes like tides, and the wolf embraces the great unknown by sending readers off into their next chapters. Complete with simple sketches and flowing verse, each collection speaks volumes on its own. However, the first book of the northern collection, the moon, eclipses the others; it captures both the deep darkness and shining light of its namesake with its tragic authorial perspective and its illumination of a greater audience (moonlight does not discriminate in who it falls upon, after all).
From the opening to the acknowledgements, every last word in the moon is crafted into poetry. The titles of the poems function both as the outline of a new idea as well as a short bumper sticker-style poem to ease readers into the longer piece on the subject. “your pain becomes your purpose” and “some flowers only bloom in the night” are just two of the many enchanting opening lines that entice us to venture on to the next page. Any poet can name a poem – but few can tap into their potential for poetic value. It is here that our author exceeds expectations; each title, acknowledgement, and the other literary elements are lyrical compliments rather than mere components to the moon.
It is not a stretch to say every contemporary poet lives with some kind of pain. There are countless tales of authors’ lost loves and battles with mental illness in the genre, but Tolnø’s peripheral perspective on her struggles creates a new, far more bleak atmosphere in the moon than in other collections. Rather than being at the center of her own universe, she orbits around others’ experiences and reflects on what they mean for her. It is emotionally taxing to face a toxic relationship on one’s own, but an undeniably heavier gravity tugs at the reader through the desperation – and yet, powerlessness – Tolnø feels when “a friend’s words holds no power / against a lover’s kiss.” This tragic perspective persists throughout the collection in many forms, such as when she recounts the helplessness of having to watch a loved one wither in the face of mental illness. Tolnø does not – or perhaps cannot – write from the center of the universe; cast to the sidelines of her own life is where the subliminal chill of the moon becomes the most apparent.
There is an expectation that both author and reader tend to fall victim to in our blackand-white cultural climate; the former often writes for an audience that aligns with their values or identities, and the latter generally seeks out works that they identify with, be it in political or moral beliefs, physical identities, or, most relevant to the moon, intangible identities such as religious affiliation. The presence of religion – or lack thereof – can deter readers from a collection and sadly limit the overall audience. Tolnø recognizes this, and in order to share her work with as many readers as possible, she addresses forces unseen with tactful ambiguity. Rather than naming a deity, she leaves it up to the reader by using “the divine” to address higher powers. Such wording is not limited to one given religion, or even religion itself. “Divine” is a word that can imply one or many, leaving the door open to either mono- or polytheistic interpretation. As a result, our author is able to welcome both types of believers to enjoy everything her words have to offer without implicitly favoring one audience over the other. Just as she refuses to limit the moon to one religious identity, Tolnø’s word choice ensures that the collection can be interpreted metaphysically or spiritually rather than theistically. As an agnostic myself, I enjoyed the moon in a spiritual sense. Had it been a strictly religious collection, I cannot say I would have chosen to pick the book up. Thanks to Tolnø’s use of ambiguity, however, the moon remains an incredibly approachable collection for all.
Nothing knows the stark contrast of light and darkness quite like our moon. In both its harrowing sadness and the glimmering hope it offers, Tolnø’s the moon lays a powerful foundation for the northern collection and illuminates what her path towards the future would come to mean.
Blair E. Vandehey is an Appleton-based writer, daydreamer, and lover of all things pop culture. She is currently working towards a degree in Creative Writing at Lawrence University.