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

"Midnight in the City of Clocks" by Tobias Hill (Oxford Poets, 1996)

Reprinted in 2004! At times I feel he's captured a fashionable poetry mode (decorative imagery and redundant line-breaks) better than he's captured anything else. Descriptive (travel) poems become muted-Martian lists whose metaphors don't always come off. Here's something from "Sumo Wrestler in Sushi Bar"

[....] and the floor-mat
learns flatness under his weight.
His thighs flop down like sunstruck apes.

The bulbed light of light-bulbs
The subject matter makes for easy contrasts which he in the main eschews. Instead we have "learns flatness", "bulbed light" and a simile that for me has promise but misfires. Why apes (hairy and splay-limbed) rather than (say) pigs? Why have "down"? In "One Day in Hiroshima" we have "cicadas warm up like chainsaws" (a cliché), and "Watches are reaching noon/on the wrists of lunchbreak men" (mangled poetism). It ends with
borders of hydrangea
bruise against the air, their fists
delicate as litmus paper.
Testing subsoil and heat
for acid and its violence.

I like the litmus paper simile, but bruised air's another tired cliché and are the flowers very much like fists? Are we supposed to know that the hydrangea is Nagasaki's city flower? The chainsaws and fists (but little else in the poem) hint at hidden violence. The end seems more a rushed attempt to bring closure and historical significance to just another list poem. "Waiting" has

The match-scratch of the first cicada
ignites the sun. By twelve o'clock

it's a cymbal-crash
in the high branches
Here auditory and visual comparisons combine more successfully. It also has "Clouds move/ like mountains", a twist on the standard comparison - are the clouds moving?

I ended up mentally scoring each simile. "Three Wishes in a Small Town" has "his hands smell yellow with sawdust,/ like the mouths of smokers" (don't get it) and "sheep as white as cricketeers" (I've seen it before). "Meat" has "The washing/ piling up like nasty thoughts" (not worth it). "July 14th, 10 pm" has "The moon round as an oven-dial" (so?) and "Ten fire-engines slide their red trombones" (that's more like it!)

In summary, there are many metaphors - some safe ("expression smeared across her cheeks"), some illuminating, but also some that are gaudy or are unlikely to work for most readers. He's much more than a simile-smith though; poems like "Broken Bone" and "The Woman who Talks to Ezra Pound in Tesco" show a different side of him - fast-moving and full of surprising turns.

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