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.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

"Nocturne in Chrome and Sunset Yellow" by Tobias Hill (Salt, 2006)

I'm not impressed by the initial poems (though the 1st poem comes from "The Rialto"). Here are some extracts from "January"

imitating console games and children's cries
and mobile phones and traffic lights and what might be
the trajectory of an unidentified flying object.

Nice enough detail but the pacing is that of prose

go lolloping through the snow,
clopping and crumping through the fresh white fall
into the fish-grey slush between the market pitches

"fish-grey" is ok (no fish stalls, I presume), as are the sound effects, though I could have done without the 1st line

and the woman at Wanshika's Quality Underwear
who might be Wanshika in the flesh
putting away their luxury goods,
leaving nothing behind that isn't
firmly nailed to the pavement.

The bloating's worse here, and the observation less original.

There's a poem for each month. "March" has a decent plot, but by the time I reached "May" the year and the months felt too long, albeit that the sentiments were pleasant enough. In "June" there's "none of them with a lift in their step,/ each of them trudging home,/ but somehow trudging home,/ back to their accommodations, / the one room". Line 2 seems to have been left in by accident. I like the autumn months best: "September" has "the people in the road outside/ who seem to move in the way that starlings/ hinge themselves together in the sky". I like the image of starlings hinging themselves. "November" has "London - there's a rhythm to the name,/ its ending an echo of its beginning,/ as if London were the name for somewhere/ full to the brim with its own echoes.". "December" has a prose layout.

In "The Nightworkers" railwaymen are mending a track. Here's stanza 3

The clocks stop for them.
Nothing comes
while they mend their ways.
Nothing goes. The night trains

rest in their stables

I'm unsure how to read this. Taken literally it says little. What are we to make of Auden's stopped clocks (and his night train?) or of the "mend their ways" pun? Why "stables"? Why the stanza-break? I suppose it's part of a page-long set-up for the 2nd part of the poem, but it sacrifices itself too much I think. The next poem's "The Orator" - more Auden? Then in "Nine in the Morning in the Station Bar" there's "as if to say that about trains, at least,/ the old man in the suit is never wrong"

Some poetry clichés are revamped. Though there's no Mind the gap there's

  • "Ever since summer blew their candles out/ they've nursed their loss, and now their plots are hatched.// They've mined the wind. The thud of their hulls/ sounds louder than our own footfalls" ("Horse Chestnuts")
  • "or hidden in the shadows of the house/ like a child playing at hide-and-seek,// a boy crouched in the dusty attic dark,/ listening to someone count a hundred/ and wishing only never to be found" ("Five Ways of Looking at my Grandfather")
  • In "Nocturne" there's a repeated Are we there yet?

Some of the comparisons are rather strained, or at least more suited to prose. The following from "Five Ways of Looking at my Grandfather" doesn't really work for me "(his writing so small/ that he might have been measuring out/ valuable medicine and not ink,// drop by drop Indian drop)". "A Bowl of Green Fruit" reminds me of a Brian Patten poem. "The Wave" keeps moving. It's perhaps my favorite.

On the back cover George Szirtes mentions "lucid narrative" and "observed detail". I wouldn't argue with that. It's as mainstream as anything I've read for months. Hill writes excellent prose, so I guess he knows whether atmosphere-creating details will or won't work in stories.

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