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, 8 May 2009

"Lunch at the Elephant and Castle" by Katrina Naomi (Templar Poetry, 2008)

Below are the 1st stanzas of 2 side-by-side poems (p.10-11).

The Slow Train
The red ink skated on the script, after that call. I was aware only
of a low sound made by some animal near my desk, and people
gathering, my boss looking at me. Through mountains of air, I
was talking, explaining in a voice that wasn't mine. My boss
held me, which I knew went against our workplace's code of
conduct, but how good her touch felt.
The Night Club
The man in drag is Jordanesque.
Breasts scaffolded, squashed into silver
sequins. Long, black beehived hair,
three-inch heels, two-inch lashes,
lips pearled a palest pink. Turns
out to be a woman when she sings

"The Slow Train" is, I think, a prose poem, line-breaks determined by the page width. "The Night Club" is 4 6-lined stanzas, the 1st stanza's lines between 4.6cm and 5.7cm long. I measured because that constraint must explain why there's a line-break after "silver" but not after "pink" - lines mustn't stick out too far. I've seen other collections lately where there's a single prose-poem, published as if to show the poet's range of talents, but whose style is much as the other poems, thus casting doubt on the value of other poems' line-breaks. I should, I know, be used to arbitrary formats by now, but putting these poems face to face invites the reader to compare and contrast.

I've tried writing things like "Learning to Love Beer", another poem in this collection. I assess my attempts as failed Flash - inconclusive themed anecdote with bits of heightened language (e.g. "amid", "roused") to compensate for lack of plot. But "Learning to Love Beer" is 6 4-lined stanzas. The stanzas are end-stopped, which I suppose justifies them to some extent. The title poem's aren't (they're couplets with a final punchline), which makes its format stranger still. I like "Birdsongs are Composed ..." and "Blood Atlas", but why the bizarre, staggered layout of "The Avenue at Middelharnis"? And "An Everyday Story of Mortgages" is just a story (microfiction) whose 33 line-breaks and 11 stanza-breaks are superfluous.

Am I letting myself be distracted from what really matters? Should I ignore the pink paper and changes of fonts when I read submissions? Should I look upon works for what they are rather than judge them according to the genre the writer classified them under? Answers: Maybe.
Should format be assumed to contribute to meaning? Does the writer have a duty not to distract the reader? If appearance matters, are there prettier things than same-sized rectangles? Answers: Yes.

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