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.

Sunday, 1 October 2006

"Kissing a Bone" by Maura Dooley (Bloodaxe, 1996)

On 14/6/00 I wrote

  • I wasn't too keen on "Explaining Magnetism" but since then I've liked various poems of hers in magazines. Sometimes ("The Message") she reminds me a little of Simic, sometimes of Pauline Stainer. Unlike the latter, she grounds herself in observables. Nearly all the poems are sonnet-length or less.

Recently re-reading the book, I find I like it more. The clipped, unbaggy style (like Ian Hamilton, but with more lyricism; Robin Robertson, etc) is what I sometimes strive for. This approach can lead to stylistic or structural monotony, but Dooley avoids that; perhaps it's this that inhibits the volume of her output - maybe she doesn't like repeating herself. Sometimes we have bare events -

They settle up. She opens a door on London.
He closes it. They move into the crowd.
Elsewhere the world becomes a more explicit vehicle for metaphor
How, at an open window the wind
filled a shirt with the shape of his body,
pressed it flat as an idea again.

There's linguistic variety too: "Keith Jarrett" and "KLM 468..." are face to face. They're both 4 stanzas of 3 lines, but the first is one metaphor-ridden sentence whereas the second begins "A short flight. My plane lifts into cloud".

So how does a writer of short poems write longer pieces? Repetition helps ("Talks about Talks", "Walking"). A pattern can be followed (thesis, antithesis, synthesis as in "The Message"). Or a narrative can be pared away, each stanza polished in isolation. "1847" (3rd in 1994's National Poetry Competition) has about 70 syllables spread across 12 lines. Making it into a narrative is all part of the fun for the reader. Unusually, it uses end-rhyme.

She doesn't use narrative-free juxtaposition much either, though sometimes each stanza can have the abruptness of "in media res" first paragraphs - she doesn't go in for gratuitous continuity.

The first poem of a book gives poets a chance to introduce themselves. "History" serves her well in this regard, showing her breadth of technique and imagery - it uses simile, metaphor and juxtaposition; it alludes to the Berlin Wall, Moon missions, zoos, Gods, cargo cults and relics in its 3 4-line stanzas, but still manages to foreground human relationships.

  • 1st stanza - someone's been away for a week, already becoming "history" - "It's like never having seen the Wall, except in pieces on the dusty shelves of friends". The Wall (i.e. separation) is apt, and "dusty" is a sly preparation for the 2nd stanza.
  • 2nd stanza - the persona remembers queuing for hours to see moondust ("a pile of dirt some god had shaken down" - iambic pentameter!). The rest of the poem doesn't mention this detachable event (which could easily have appeared in another poem - "Moss", for example).
  • 3rd stanza - the process of detachment continues - awaited letters become "a fleet of strange cargo", relics; opening them is like "kissing a bone". The "god" of stanza 2 has fallen.

Stanzas like the moon one here can begin or end a poem. Having it in the middle (as here) gives the poet a chance to establish a primary theme and end on a punch-line that's back in the context of the main theme. The moon stanza adds an otherwise absent sense of excited anticipation and hope, the moon a "romantic", unobtainable image. The shock of juxtaposing is softened by shared imagery - waiting, dust and religion.

No comments:

Post a Comment