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.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

"No panic here" by Mark Halliday (HappenStance, 2009)

"Much contemporary American poetry isn't interested in the aural effects British readers have been trained to associate with poetry; British readers may find American poems' line breaks arbitrary, the arrangement of lines or stanzas bizarre or arbitrary" (Hannah Brooks-Motl, "Aristocracies of One", in "Contemporary Poetry Review", 2009).

In this sense I'm a very British reader. In the times when formal poetry was the norm, not every rhyme or line-break had significance: some were there merely for reasons of stylistic/visual uniformity. And when relaxed freeform is the norm, not every line-break signifies a fracture, or a breath. They may be there because other line-breaks need to be there. That said, this collection has too many line-breaks for me - one comes across whole stanzas (like the first of "Drafts to Impress the Angels") where the line-breaks do nothing. Some pieces flirt on the personal-essay/Flash boundary. Were they longer, I suspect they'd be prosed.

The tone's conversational: death-haunted but nothing too despairing, with some poetry-about-poetry and lots of wryness. Within a poem there can be several tones and techniques. The "Drafts to Impress the Angels" poem that starts with prose ends with rhyme

    These sky-color critics, never in a hurry,
    make YOU seem so unfair -
    you living readers, all from Missouri,
    you can only admire what's actually there.
and "Feb Life" mixes imagery ("The house stood in the rain like unfed dogs on ropes") sound effects ("The wipers went squrroc, squrroc") and self-critique

         - But that is mere juxtaposition.
    - That's right. When shall we make it unmere ... ?

Spot-the-quote fans won't be disappointed - "so many, I had not figured th'ineffable had bred so many" (p.5), "let's us go, you and me, to a Mexican restaurant" (p.7. typo?). Later though, the pretence of poetry is underlined

  • "And it was fun, in a melancholy way, to say 'the light fails' and 'ghosts of bells'" (p.23)
  • In "Noon Freight" there's "This freight train: unmistakable metaphor" then when the train's gone
            you feel a silence in the wake of metaphor
        and then it's nice (but small) (but nice) that your turkey melt
        is still there and you can take it literally

His is the kind of poetry whose effects might be termed "nice (but small) (but nice)". It needn't be taken as a detrimental comment - I've seen bigger, grander work lately which isn't nice at all.

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