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.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

"The Missing" by Sian Hughes (Salt, 2009)

2 line stanzas7
3 line stanzas9
4 line stanzas8
5 line stanzas5
6 line stanzas4
7 line stanzas1
Misc stanzas15
Some good credentials (TLS, London Magazine, Arvon winner, etc). Most poems are half a page, if that, so you get about 25 pages of poetry. Line-lengths are uniform. Stanzas are often end-stopped and of uniform length within a poem. I like much of the material. "The Send-off" is fine (the 20th stanza is a triplet, the other 25 are couplets - I'd been hoping that the pattern was going to match the "trisomy twenty-one" of the content). I was struck that when I reached a poem I liked (e.g. "Secret Lives") it was often followed by 2 or 3 flat pieces, and also the best pieces read like beginnings of stories that hit the ground running - I like "The Stairs" for example, but I could imagine it being a few pages longer. The ideas in "Nativity", "The Places for Crying" etc are like those in my notebook that I store up for stories. Am I saying more is always better? No. The Impressionists (and pre-impressionists) were accused of doing sketches rather than finished works. Evolution uses the same trick to develop new trends - neotony, I think it's called. I guess that's happening here. At least they're more than anecdotes. That said, more is potentially different (another evolutionary ploy). It's possible to harness an image to an architecture so that the image doesn't lose its power - the surrounding material performs the function of "white space", and the image returns the favour. Kate Clanchy is writing stories now, so who knows...
Hughes uses repetition, but I'm not always convinced - "The Missing" just sounds repetitious to me.
It's not easy to quote lines - they need context, and given the length of the poems I'd be in danger of quoting whole pieces. Also some pieces (e.g. "Magnetic Fish") are implicit extended metaphors (the ending is "Every catch is a good catch. A jump. Then holding on."). Here are the first lines of the first poem (atypical in its prosiness, but typical in its exploitation of line-breaks) - "The day Arsenal won the double you stayed out of town/ while I went looking for a houseboat for one./ It was moored under the tropical aviary at the Zoo/ and, having no engine of any kind, was staying there.// The toilet arrangement was a bucket and hose/ and relied on the cover of darkness."
See also the review by Matthew Stewart.

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