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, 20 May 2008

"How the Stone Found Its Voice" by Moniza Alvi (Bloodaxe, 2005)

Two things first struck me

  • That these are the type of short, single-threaded poems I write to get me out of writer's block. This feeling is reinforced by the poems being in sequences or "after" another poet, as if Alvi were short of raw inspiration.
  • That the "what if" situations were interesting. What if countries slipped away from their "megastores, the temples"? The "what ifs" don't always work for me though - "How the Children Were Born" doesn't convince me.

There are 12 "How ..." poems, 9 poems "after Jules Supervielle" (I've no idea how close to the originals these are. Whose imagery is "your forehead will be blank as a vast empty square that separates two armies"?), 9 "My Wife" poems and some anecdotal ones that deal with cultural clashes, racism, parenthood, etc.

She keeps her head above the letter-phonemes-rhythm levels. Wordplay's absent (like Holub she's easily translated, and her line-breaks shouldn't be taken too seriously). There's more flexibility and movement along the Myth-Realism dimension. The "How ..." section is "mythic". The anecdotal ones start in Realism mode though the strain shows - for example, "School Closure" ends with a sudden lurch - "It was the lost clue to our existence". The "My Wife" section has the most Magic Realism. In "Trouble" the wife finds a little Komodo dragon in the casserole. When her husband dons plastic gloves to remove it she says "That was brave". The husband wonders whether she thinks he planted the dragon. The poem (which I rather like) is little more than the plot, but because it's short, the reader's likely to explore the symbolic import of the dragon. After all, it could have been many other creatures.

Several "forms" are used, though it's unclear why. "Campello Dawn" has a prose layout. "Half-and-Half" and "The Suits" are in unconvincing couplets. "The Suits" introduces the theme of otherness - I don't like those poems so much. Some of these, and in particular "Spanish Sunrise", are line-broken pensées.

My favourites are "Besieged" and "Spanish Birdsong", though I liked "My Father Has Always Loved Marmalade" too, whose conceit is that the father enters a jar of marmalade - "With his stick he pushes coarse shreds to the side ... but still the eternal glow".

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