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, 25 January 2008

"We Were Pedestrians" by Gerard Woodward (Chatto & Windus, 2005)

£9! He has a gift for metaphor and simile - landed parachutists dealing with "the slow/Blubber of their chutes"; "the waggle-dance/Of a small forklift"; a "[toilet] cistern/Refills like an old lady/Pouring tea", and when a saucepan lid is raised, "Everything is stowed, A crowd disappears, blunt Instruments are sleeved". He has good ideas for pieces ("Head", "EcoPoesis"). He can spin out a story ("Elephant"). For all that, I think these strength don't combine often enough, and when they're all absent, there are few language-based features to fall back on.

Yes, there are striking metaphors, but they're set in prose like "The nights were so dark You'd think the sun Was never coming back. I'd sometimes lie in the bed Kept awake by this noise That was probably the central Heating fluttering into life" and "The art of poking the tongue To seal a letter, to fix a stamp, May soon belong with leech-Medicine and the eating Of placentas, to an age Of unhygienic romance." And yes, there are 3 villanelles, though "Dr Profundo" is only saved by "memories came like butterflies/ Across the meadows of my brain". "James" has an abaa rhyme scheme and "North from Reykjavik" has rhyming couplets. Elsewhere the initial caps and the line-breaks that give the text an orderly visual appearance have a detrimental, distracting effect on me. "The Overcoat" for example has some good images, but the format does the content no favours. "The Plume" and "On the corner" are barely poetic, though they're laid out very poetically.

I'm not suggesting that these should be "prose poems", or that all poems should be uniformly imagistic, only that there shouldn't be redundant line-breaks. In other countries writers publish short "texts" or aphorisms that haven't been sliced or bloated to suit another genre. To me, this book's white space is an expensive way of telling the reader to read poetically. In amongst journalism etc, such a ploy might be a necessary cue, but in a homogeneous book what's the problem?

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