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, 26 April 2010

"Dog Language" by Chase Twichell (Bloodaxe, 2006)

The rule seems to be that lines should be more than 5cm long but less than 8cm, keeping clauses intact if possible. So in "The Wheelchair in the Attic" "Lunch was a formal sit-down, linens and finger bowls, cousins and siblings conversing under the radar of adults, me at Gran's left as usual" demands 4 line-breaks. The poem ends with a conventional twist - "What Sam doesn't know is that when I was sent from the table for my mimicry, my father followed me upstairs and I said it was because he no longer loved my mother, and he said, You're wrong. It's your mother who does not love me." - but at the expense of 7 more line-breaks.

Story-writers - and even Flash writers - would do more with these observations. The pieces are studded with the odd piece of imagery but not enough to relieve the uniformity. The standard pattern is to start with prose, throw in a passage of imagery three-quarters of the way through, then end with a punchline. Typical is "Neurotransmission". It starts with "My history of drug-taking is long, starting with One-a-Day Vitamens and St Joseph's aspirin ...", mentions "Solaces" (Buddhism?) then ends with these 5 lines - "Now a psychopharmacologist oversees the weather of my brain, and I live in its atmospheres, its tides, its own distinctive forms of sentience". The imagery is standard. I don't get the final clause though.

I gave up reading the book half way through - too much padding (a lot of it white), too little variety and too many cop-outs. The rest of the book no doubt contains worthy material but I'm pressed for time and don't quite trust the writer.

"Watertown" is the favorite of the pieces I read. It lives up to the blurb. It's perhaps too obviously fodder for superficial analysis. 1.5 pages long, it begins more cryptically than other poems do -

   Watch out for easily-broken
   crocus and tulip -
   lift the spoils from them
   carefully, hit the brakes
   for chocolates in colored foils,

Who has to watch out? "The spoils" suggests to me the spent tea-leaves that people tip on their flowers, but why would one lift these spoils off? Do the last 3 lines merely say that they stopped the car to visit their grandma who gave them sweets? The imagery of these lines is soon continued

  • A few lines later we have "You'd have to break the room to break the door" - 4 uses of the idea of "breaking" in 18 lines.
  • Later there are "spring flowers" and in contrast "a hundred-year-old jade tree on the piano"
  • Later there are no sweets, only "a hard sugar egg" and many colours - mid-winter blue, green, red, gold, red, black, white, orange, lemon, lime, green

Each of these associations ramifies - eggs are held up to a candle to see "the chicken embryos hunched up in there like little monks". The theme holding the imagery together is perhaps the contrast of the fragility of life (as shown in the initial lines) with the wish for permanence - "sugar egg", "paper duck", "Artichoke" and "Ember" made into colours, a recipe for a cocktail called "Sunday Noon" and the "jade tree". At the end the narrator first wants the jade tree, then something more permanent representing something more alive - grandma's stone turtle.

See Rattle's review for a more comprehensive treatment.

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