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, 1 December 2005

"The Clown of Natural Sorrow" by Rob A. MacKenzie (HappenStance, 2005)

HappenStance have produced several pamphlets now, and a house style is emerging: an awareness of (but not submission to) form leading to a range of outcomes

  • use of fixed form: "Girl Playing Sudoku on the 7.15" - a sonnet; "A Night in the Circus" - excellent terza rima with some half-rhymes; "Dated", "In the Beginning" - 11/11/11/5 syllabics
  • looser forms: "Double Note" is AABBA/AABB/AABBAB where the last line repeats line 9. This could have been regularised, with 3 5-lined stanzas, but what's the point? On the other hand, why tease?
  • prose form: "The Actress"
  • box form: stanzas (usually of 3 lines) that are similarly rectangular

As they say, you can't break the rules unless you know them, and MacKenzie's clearly qualified to break them. Even so, some of the come-and-go patterns distract me. For instance, "The Clown of Natural Sorrow" has 5 8-lined stanzas, odd lines indented. In stanza 1 the indented lines end with rock/stakes/on/one - ah, so there's a pattern. Stanza 2's indented lines end couched/mouthed/never/mask, after which the resemblances disappear until the final stanza's grows/show/face/recognise.

Content is contemporary and international - Lega Nord, Harry Potter, Sudoku, and IKEA all get early mentions. For those who want a bit of culture, there's Garbarek, Holub and Ungaretti. Many poems are based on seemingly real-life episodes. Take for example "Taxi", which begins

We take the Eurostar from Oulx and shift
two Filipinos from our pre-booked seats.

- blank verse which concisely sets the scene and theme. Prepared for the culture shock of Italy, they find that "Kebab and couscous overrun the pavements". The taxi driver prefers them to 2 black women - "Priority for kids", he says. The narrator suspects the priority is really for whites. The final

the price is way too high, and still we pay.

leads one to wonder whether the narrator misjudged the taxi-driver, who may just have had profit in mind, but the "price" may well refer to the previously mentioned dead boat-people and other racially-related social ills.

A note about the printing style: the poem's titles are mixed case on the Contents page, but bold upper-case in the body of the text. I feel that the poet's choice of case in the poem should extend to the title. Particularly in this book, titles are important to the poems, signalling features that might otherwise remain unnoticed.

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