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.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

"Blind Spots" by Carol Rumens (Seren, 2008)

"Certain to be one of the most read and talked-about poetry collections of the year", the blurb says. I'm struggling to find any reviews online. The back cover says the book contains some "musings" and has quotes by Anne Stevenson, Elaine Feinstein and Ruth Fainlight. The front cover's quote is by Brian Nellist who no doubt I should have heard of. Oh well.

The first section of the book was inspired by Montale, so don't expect anything simple and strong. Here's the start of an early poem, "Bibliomythos"

To discover you, of the calm, precise mind,
incarnate at the core of my obsession
is to face a book that stirs, acquires a backbone,
and crawls out of the water, mortal, moral,
peppercorn eyes amassing strings of light-cells.

Quite a lot's going on here - word-play (mor[t]al) beneath an over-arching analogy. The 1st line's "of the" disrupts rather gratuitously - "with your" would read more smoothly. The 2nd line could have been "incarnate at my obsession's core". "acquires a spine" would perhaps be too obvious. I presume that "light-cells" are "light-detecting cells".

"Sunflower Chorus" is in couplets, some more opaque than others. Here are a few

Which one? We're inter-changeable. Fibonacci
Sussed our spiral soul. Don't trust us
We like the masks - but, in your caves, no surgeon
Reports on a commedia dell'arte.
In love at least you're curious, carbon but
Polar, not much lower than the angels

Part 1 is booklet-sized, but this is a "2 for the price of 1" offer because part 2, "Blind Spots", is 60 pages. Family, health, and a trace of politics feature. There's some good period imagery e.g. "the empire steams and streams/ Like cooks' pink custard (magic!) over school grub". The variety of forms and accessibility continues. Here's the start of "A Calepin for Dr. Brewer"

Aretinian Syllables, sing
To our Bevy of sky-sipping, 'timid,
Gregarious' Candidates ('Lat. Candidatus, clothed
In white'). Not for donkey's years have we dreamed
Of Evans's Supper Rooms, where the air blushed blue,
Refurbished, and our Familiar of Assisi,
Home from Glubbdubdrib Hock-shop,
Poorer than Irus, back in his Portiuncula.

There's some looking-up to do, but here as elsewhere she nearly always writes in well-formed sentences. "Almost True: A Guided Walk through Larkin's Cottenham" edges more towards prose. Here's the final stanza

What will survive? The work of course, we cried,
The work, But every instinct understood
How tenderly, to those with whom you'd shared
  Mere life, you would have turned,
And vanished through the dusk of memory, leaving
The experts to debate the barely heard.

Sometimes lines begin with caps, sometimes they don't. There are prose poems (which I don't get), terza rima, a Pantoum, a Sestina, a Crown of Sonnets and villanelles too. "After a Deluge" is in a campanological pattern. "English Bridges" comprises 2 interspliced pieces (prose, actually). I'm not so sure about all the standard forms though; some seem to adversely affect the content. The following isn't hot, given that it's 25% of a poem

Two dates that span
The life, distilled
From gazing child
To faded man,

Something for everyone, and a lot to choose from, though I'd be impressed by anyone with wide enough tastes to like it all.

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