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, 14 October 2010

"A Lope of Time" by Ruth O'Callaghan (Shoestring, 2009)

A variety of formats and forms - as well as the usual boxes there are assonanced couplets, 2 sestinas, 2 villanelles, a triangular poem, and prose formats. 4 poems begin with "...". "Waking" has lines 5 and 9 indented by the same amount, lines 2 and 14 indents by different amounts, and the other lines left-aligned. "Seadown" is similar. "While waiting for bad news" has some centred sections and some indented stanzas. Towards the end of the book indentation runs riot. "Snow" for example ends "smoking at an open window, the man notes the abandoned boat. Come spring he will replace it." More accurately (or bizzarely) it finishes with

smoking at an open window
                      the man
                the abandoned boat

come spring 
        he will replace it

Here's part of "Journal", showing a more philosophical side. I've used "Perhaps" in this way too - harmless enough I suppose

But there's absence - does that matter? Does distance?
Time will betray essence

as skin, stretched over bones, reveals structure.
Yet here is no knowledge, no certainty:

take time apart and what is left?
Years in which shirt buttons are counted, a christening shawl

tracing a shroud. Perhaps that is the only true measure.
Perhaps with each departure

there is not renewal but simply a re-visiting,
a lope of time, the scratch of black and white film.


And so, unresolved, unabled to distinguish
that certain darkness between the stars,

we lay our oars to rest

I'd like to see more like that. The villanelles and sestinas show the weakness of the forms. They look like exercises, as do poems like "Twelfth Night" and "Chase". "Night Road" is more interesting, and narrative poems like "Chinese Burn" impress me. Sometimes the poems sound as if they've been pumped up with poetification - "8.47 p.m." ends "a stealthy rain infiltrates/ and long-held words hover/ under unquiet skies"

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