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, 18 January 2011

"The Night of the Day" by David Morley (Nine Arches Press, 2009)

A pamphlet beginning with a short section about bad fathers followed by longer sections on Nature and Circuses. Early on there is a child in fear of the father. In the Circus section rain, arsonists, and police are threats. The Naturalist section is more neutral, water life closely observed. The content's strong throughout, but the poet doesn't depend on that alone - language is intensified at several levels. In "Abandoned Christmas Tree Plantation" for example, about half the the lines are repeated. In several poems there's internal rhyme and Hopkinseque repetition. At a lower level there's an interest in words - from Botany but more especially from Romany. It's a pamphlet packed both breadthwise and depthwise.

The imagery rarely flags (I like salmons "springing at their height like bending wands/ casting themselves towards its spawning grounds" (p.18) though "Our jeep does the graft of our feet" (p.17) sounds unnecessary to me). Sometimes I'm unsure about the repetition. In the passage below "smashed" is ok, but the repeated use of "handle" is a linguistic ploy rather than one that betrays character or is mimetic

           my father
flies off his handle again, but this is a real handle
that he's handling as a weapon, and the sitting room
is being smashed and smashed and smashed to death. (p.9)

That prosey first extract contrasts with the tight style just a few pages on

Self-snared in white
woods, I slept in
hope I had spared
the hares of heaven. (p.12)

There are passages to keep soundsmiths happy -

pashed against the spun sun of that high prism (p.18)

- or this

the first fists of flame fling gold into the rain (p.21)

Other devices are used - "Stiptsàr the Stilt-man" is in the form of 2 narrow side-by-side columns. Even hyphens are roped in to double the meanings

the Ring-master asks about pension
contributions and percent-ages. (p.28)

As individual pieces I like "Abandoned Christmas Tree Plantation", "I have lost touch with the world", "A Lit Circle" and "Colin Clown" most.

The Circus section's a sequence - some poems overlap verbally. The ringmaster worries about land, the horseman about grass, then there's the do-it-all, the clown (the circus's public image, each face unique), the watchman (with no act anymore, looking out for winking headlamps, picking up gossip), the carpenter who holds it all together behind the scene (who disappears overnight, then returns), the magician, the strongman, the musician (or the ghost of one). They mix fact, observation, character and language effects, describing from the inside for us outsiders, most explicitly in "A Lit Circle"

Inside, horses are slamming their heads and hooves against the canvas wall
Outside, the canvas is red muscle rippling with their massed force
There's hardly a weak poem, though "Kasheskoro the Carpenter" feels too workshoppy for my tastes, there for the plot. The final lines of the pamphlet (and it's a good way to end) are

Here you are standing centre. Here, in this circle of grass.
Caught song, caught sound, caught art, caught light, caught air. (p.31)

Earlier "A circus catches the lot in one lit circle". Yes, all life is there, but perhaps "lit circle" alludes to "literary circle", the poems hoping to contain these qualities. Were there a prize for sequences I think this would be a serious contender.

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