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.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

"Small Hours" by Lachlan Mackinnon (Faber, 2010)

I like "Pigeon", the first poem (it uses some line-feeds without carriage-returns). The 2nd poem, "Canute", could have reached the punch-line sooner (Canute didn't think he'd succeed, but hey, it was worth a try). "Strewth" isn't so hard to write once you have the newspaper cutting. Several pieces are death-haunted.

The blurb says that the book ends with "a long poem ... written mostly in prose", which is true, but earlier on, "Midlands" has "TB and rickets/ are back in cities, but these towns/ are too small to support/ such destitution", "Canals hidden/ like avenues by trees// until the bank-holiday/ holiday-makers come/ in narrow-boats dolled up/ like gypsy caravans/ with new gloss/ blue, orange, red", etc.

I like "The Book of Emma" (the final piece) but (for what it's worth) I'd call it prose. Yes, it has shifts of time and subject, but thankfully so does prose. It has a consistent voice. Its imagery and analogies are developed at a leisurely pace. There are leit-motifs and unspoken interconnections. It doesn't exploit sound effects.

  • "The only television I watched as an undergraduate was the separate inaugural speech President Carter had recorded for Europe on the subject of nuclear weapons. We just didn't. Nowadays people have sets in their rooms. And mobiles. They stay in touch with home friends in a way impossible and unimaginable for us. They text and email. This may be an epistemic shift but they feel terror loneliness and grief no less than we did" (from section XL).
  • "Of course in making this thing about you or around you I am talking about my youth and homesick for it. But that is not the point. The point is that at one time in one place I met someone who became to me a living conscience" (from section XLVIII)

Online reviews include

  • Kate Kellaway (The Observer) - The second half of the collection I read with a fascinated curiosity bordering on disbelief
  • Boyd Tonkin (The Independent) - It is a poet's prose: thrifty, rhythmic, specific, given to darting shifts in pace and focus.
  • Carrie Etter (The Guardian) - "The Book of Emma" creates much of its poetry through command of sentence rhythms, repetitions of sound, and epic movement between individual experience and historical perspective.
  • David Green (blog) - like the poems, it is economically written, in short sentences but builds into both a fragmentary personal memoir, shifting in time, and a devoted tribute.
  • Phil Brown (Dr Fulminare) - The beauty of this long sequence is that the "Emma" figure is not a point of meditation, but rather a motif to thread through Mackinnon's concise memoirs.
  • David Morley (blog) - "The Book of Emma", which is neither prose poetry nor poetic prose but a vivid series of elliptical, connected flash-backs that have the quality of flash fiction - except we are clearly hearing a poem... - it is a highly successful experiment in form.

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