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.

Friday, 19 November 2010

"The Breakfast Machine" by Helen Ivory (Bloodaxe, 2010)

She re-uses many of her symbols - "cellar"/"basement', "door", "rain", "clock" etc. "window", "night", rooms, birds and "sky" each get over 9 mentions. Here's a table of the concepts and page-numbers that cluster the most. It seems from this table that the poem on p.14 ("Sleep") re-uses many of the common images, though that doesn't make it boring. In it a house is anthropomorphised (an idea that haunts many of the poems). Then a woman inside it sleepwalks to a mirror, and sees a bird's skull on the windowsill. Later, in "Mouse trap" (p.37), there are mice in a house without walls, a carefully constructed trap, inside and outside confused again - "We are mice here, scuttling through/ dark corridors in each other's heads".

If people figure in poems at all, their only company is the narrational voice. The most common theme is "Things aren't what they seem". Here are beginning and ending of "Jumble Sale"

Toys are lost from their boxes
and upside down,
jigsaw puzzles
will not make sense
Over in bric-à-brac,
a doll with no eyes watches
from behind kitchen scales.
Some poems are more dream-surreal. "You asked what I was afraid of" ends with
From the far hills, an ant writ large
brings its silhouette closer
to reveal you as an unsaddled rider on its back

The sound of you reciting the first twenty elements
of the periodic table over and over
in the voice of a bull

would be the last thing I hear
as a card flips over
revealing itself to be Alexander the Great, no less
The surrealism is more literary in "Slot Machine" which starts with
People are pebbles
and windows are mirrors.

When the moon is pushed
down the chimney's throat,
the music begins.

2 line stanzas5
3 line stanzas14
4 line stanzas17
5 line stanzas7
6 line stanzas4
7 line stanzas1
Misc stanzas3
Layouts are as regular as I've ever seen. Even the 3 "Misc" layouts are mostly regular. 3 poems have asterisks to separate stanzas, though they're hardly needed - almost all stanzas longer than 2 lines are end-stopped (there aren't many long sentences in this book). However, few poems are lists: the most common conceptual structure is to start with some declarative statements - "The ... is ..." - then have a clause beginning with "But", "Even" or "Yet" then end about 12 lines later with a sentence that uses "all", "forever", or "only".

I liked many of the poems on a first reading. I'm less sure about some of them now, but there are several I would still like to have written.

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