Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

"hyphen" by ra page (ed) (Comma Press, 2003)

An anthology of short stories by UK poets. In her introduction Ra Page talks about the history of the rift between poetry and prose, suggesting that nowadays poets, being distanced from Modernism, are more likely than before to risk writing stories. The exploits of Armitage, Hannah et al prove the point, though perhaps the reasons are more commercial than aesthetic. Armitage isn't in this volume (too busy writing novels I guess) but many other frontliners are. It looks as if a few contributors have felt free to stray from the mainstream. Here's paragraph 4 from the first story (by John Latham)

Mrs Campion is strumming on her harp with woollen strings. Alex is crawling through a nest of bracken. Wendy Eva, with no mouth or eyes, has upturned the pale oval of her face towards the sky. Ernest is on one knee in torrential rain, looking for Germany. Lionel scarcely crackles as he burns.

Helen Clare's piece "Six Departures" also uses juxtaposition, though in larger chunks. Except perhaps for these 2 pieces there's little to suggest that the authors are poets (though you might be forgiven for thinking that they're mainstream, and not very young). I liked the more sequential stories by Sean O'Brien and Matthew Francis. Pugh's was disappointing. Many others had their moments but also their flaws: sagging middles; predictability of plot; etc - it's hard to find new twists in "Invisible Man" or "scattering ashes" stories. Polly Clark's and Woodward's stories staged recoveries on their final page. Padel's piece was slightly over-long, otherwise good, with some flashy "poetic" imagery - "Truth was new; a strategy he'd never used. She could see him holding it to the light like a wine-taster swirling a glass". A pullover over a beer-belly falls down "straightish, uncertain what to do, like a dog that's been taken for a walk and left on the hill". Pride of place goes to David Constantine whose "Under the Dam" was in a different class. The book (and a few reputations - some of the contributions make me have second thoughts about the author's poetry) would have been enhanced by reducing the number of stories.

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