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.

Friday, 26 October 2007

"No Laughing Matter" by Roger Elkin (Cinnamon Press, 2007)

Elkin was editor of a poetry magazine. I think years of reading piles of submissions might tempt an editor to experiment rebelliously against the tendency to write tidy, well-crafted "so what?" poetry. In this book we have both extremes, but the non-mainstream pieces don't succeed for me: "A Man There was Whose Alpha and Omega was Zed" is beyond me, and "Botanical Eve" (a list of sometimes repeated plants, ending in "FORGET-ME-NOT") doesn't work.

"Highways Maintenance - The Poet on Work Experience" fills a page. Its style is typical of many poems in the book. It ends with
Knowing his real strengths lie with tarmacs
not ditches and drains, I suffer silently his smokes and grins.
The sum of our differences is this: while he covers up cracks
to keep them down, I dig deep to reveal the bottom of things.
Yes, there's loose rhyme, but it's mighty close to being polished, wrought prose. Here's the start of "Peak District Highways"
In late March, ignoring the spring-frisky cows' quizzical gaze,
they rise between flags of grass, pale furls of fern
and here's the start of "A Cromford Piece" (an acrostic)
Arkwright might well be surprised to lean his
Cradle of Industrial Revolution that
Rocked him to fame
(the play on "Rocketed" is neat). Here, in its entirety is "Occupation" - "Haircuts were short of course and butter disappeared and people died of starvation occasionally but the children got on jolly well with the soldiers". In all these fragments there's not a word out of place. They could be platforms from which a poem takes off, but these poems carry too much prose ballast.

He can be flashy though. In "Midnight March in the mist" we read that

the sky has misplaced the stars and moon
and only has low clouds to show for itself.

It is that dark that the road empties
his pockets to inspect its secrets.
The sources of imagery come as no surprise either - pianos, birds and plants ("towers of foxgloves" (p.28) "foxglove's leaning towers" (p.32)). Perhaps he's seen too much gaudy sound-bite imagery in his time. Having read some of his editorials where he close-reads poems, I expected more metred pieces. If the imagery's subdued, and the language isn't under tension, where is the core of the poetry? I'm not sure.

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