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.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

"The Body in the Well" by Gregory Leadbetter (Happenstance, 2007)

The acknowledgements include Agenda and Poetry London, so this poet's already experienced. After reading the first 2 poems I was getting worried, but I liked the next one, "Knowledge". This kind of pattern was repeated throughout my reading. "Freya and the Ba'tn'bah" and "The School of Resonance" were my particular favorites.

By the time I reached the end I felt that there was a lot of good writing, with quiet, appropriate imagery - e.g. "I saw a weasel streak its sine-wave over the grass" ("The Call") or "Your breathing is distant, a shiver of cymbals" ("Incubus"). The density of imagery varies, as does the subject matter. But I also sensed a lack of variety - the sentence structures don't change much, and because the lower layers of sound, rhythm and layout are barely exploited, there's little else to fall back on. It wasn't just that though. There are many butterflies, and where there were butterflies storms were never far away. Some of the endings resemble each other too. Compare

where I found wild flowers laid
in a guesswork bouquet of runes
(p.17) with
a ticker-tape of rose-petals
celebrating her stumble
only 2 pages later. More generally the last lines either flee to infinities/abstracts or retreat into enclosed stillness - a tension elegantly illustrated on the cover, where the body in the well could as easily be the man in the moon. Here are extracts from the last line or 2 of all but 4 of the poems
  • Inward - "so I can rest", "to wait", "wait", "hands that fit the foxgloves", "freezing", "bound inside you", "searching the cold space in the bed", "stillness of this room"
  • Outward - "dreams", "everything", "wide open", "run", "telepathy", "infinity", "a window of time", "open your planetary eyes", "the sun on your wings", "expanding", "raises a storm", "everywhere ... sky"

Some of the poems seek a correspondence of sorts, a resonance between dream and room, or "butterfly inside his skull" and storm. Others leave us inside (having glimpsed out) or outside (having found a way to follow our senses or thoughts beyond ourselves).

A unified collection then, best in small doses.

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