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.

Monday, 20 October 2008

"Keeping Time" by Tim Dooley (Salt, 2008)

On the front cover, Gillian Clarke's quoted - "The best poems are superb", which already made me wonder about the others. The poems of his that I like fall into 4 categories

  • "Détente" and "Heritage" (which could have sacrificed its first stanza) are short poems built around a striking image or 2
  • "Southerly" is one of several poems shaped like a sonnet both visually and conceptually.
  • "Yes it is", "Out", "The Border" and "Brief Encounter" are travelogues, mostly about car journeys that reveal the past or character. "Yes it is" begins with "It was something to do with the two of us / learning to drive so late", passes through "The A40. Dennis Potter's road. From Metroland // past Oxford" while "The boys / counted legs of pub signs". In "Brief Encounter" (one of the poems that feature "O'Driscoll") a train passenger reading [about] Goethe imagines a travelling companion who proceeds to cut him down to size.
  • Flash Poems - "The Secret Ministry", "Tenderness"
Outside of these, "September" and "Customs of the Province" are OK, but poems like "For Ernest Seiger" and "Seeing Shelley Plain" are too slack, and even early on there are several flat pieces - "Cellular" (p.5) and "Digital" (p.6) both deal with standard topics in standard ways. Here's the first half of "The briefcase" - "in brown leather your father gave after that last but one illness has worn grey near the handle; only one strap fastens now, the other dangling useless". This quote (from p.10) omits 9 line-breaks - I can't believe they're all needed. In contrast, here's the first 1.5 lines of "A Postcard from the Fifties" - "In summer of course, hearing the estuary birds screech and announce an arrival of light on the kharki mudflats". This poem's layout is especially odd - 3 stanzas of 8 long lines which but for a few words could be ragged-right prose.

Some poems have a regular pattern of indented lines - continuation lines? 2 voices? Question-and-answer lines? Does the indentation help emphasise some other rhyme or syllabic pattern? I don't think so, but I can see little difference in style between those poems and poems that have 2-word lines. Overall there's more variety of format than content, though strangely (suspiciously?) there are no prose-poem layouts.

For a dozen or so pages around p.40 the poems are consistently good. Juxtaposed declarations, mysteries and clues resolve and dissolve again. People and places intertwine. But the first half of the book is too patchy. At the end there's at least a page of notes explaining the allusions etc.

Typos: on p.25 ('heigts') and p.45 ('all' should be 'All') .

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