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.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

"The Small Hours" by Tom Duddy (HappenStance, 2006)

Good observation right from the start of poems - e.g.

  • "The Living & and the Dead" - a regular "has settled down underneath the handless antique clock ... pinching his cigarette off the brimming tray, and lifting his glass above the circling cloth" of the barman who "claws together three empties".
  • "High Grass" - a woman "down on one knee, chucked drooling brushfuls of Brilliant White into flaking weals of rust" ... "she left the paint brush across the tin, straightened (stiffly, in stages, like a weightlifter)"

These scenes are developed into thoughtful moments, often by contrasting them with later events, or events happening elsewhere. Uncomfortable social (rather than domestic) scenes are the subject of many poems, using a voice recognisable throughout the pamphlet. These poems tend to involve off-stage deaths and are in the main successful - I prefer the ones like "The Rights of Man" where the bad news isn't saved up for the end.

The layout looks formal (at first sight, "The Delivery Man" looks like a villanelle!), but there's little exploitation of line/stanza-breaks, or sonics. Some poems are sonnets, though only conceptually.

My doubts are related to the negative space around the poems' strengths - do the observations accumulate sufficiently; are the associated "plots" necessary, or sufficiently diverse? Does the language make an adequate contribution? "The Life of Robert Frost" for example is 24 lines long (6 4-line stanzas!). It makes an interesting enough point, and the language starts working towards the end, but there's some early info-dumping, and the line-breaks have downed tools.

I think I'd like to see more poems like "The Shallows", where the message isn't underlined, and the images are trusted to speak for themselves.

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