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.

Thursday, 17 February 2005

"The Zoo Father" by Pascale Petit (seren, 2001)

If you can kick off a collection with a piece as good as "The Strait-Jackets" you can't go far wrong. And there are several more excellent poems too - "Motherfather", "Self-Portrait as a Were-Jaguar", "A Wasp's Nest", "Trophy", "Nesting", "The Fish Mother", etc. The book comprises 2 interconnected clusters of poems. The first uses Amazon metaphors, mostly concerning animals both wild and captive. These could have become predictable, but they manage to surprise.

And yet, if one tries to assess the poet from this book, one may gain a false impression. I feel guilty enough when writing in a style I've used before (let alone write about the same subject twice), and would die of shame were it pointed out to me that I'd re-used a metaphor (though of course, alluding to others' poems is fine, as are cross-references within a poem). The range of subject matter and style in this book is very narrow. If you like collections with that focus and concentration then fine. However, when a pair of poems share too much they risk sounding like 2 attempts to write the same poem. And one can have too many oxygen tanks.

Form? Let's face it, most if not all of these are prose poems. Several are gratuitously shaped into couplets or triplets, sometimes with a final single punchline. Reading "Father's Map" it struck me that the shorter the text is, the more likely gratuitous line-breaks are - it's hard to pass off a prose sentence as a work of art.

The overheated blurb raises issues too: "With fierce courage" she writes "fiercely felt poems". Quite what courage has to do with the quality of the poems is beyond me. The courageous thing is to exhibit an artistic range matching that of John Wayne. Also Les Murray wrote that "Pascale Petit is among five or six of the very best current poets of the UK" - such precise doubt! Who's borderline? I want to know!

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