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, 24 December 2010

"Stress Fractures" by Tom Chivers (ed) (Penned in the Margins, 2010)

If you like the articles in "Tears in the Fence", "The Wolf" or even "PN Review" you might well like these. They deal with some of the more technical aspects of current trends - nothing about the sociology of poetry, Survivor/Therapy poets, etc. I got the most from essays charting the progress of Oulipo (Simon Turner), Line-breaks (Katy Evans-Bush) and Prose Poems (David Caddy). Several of the others were interesting in parts, or at least entertaining - ("I like to think of Slam Poetry as the living embodiment of Plato's worst fears" - Tim Clare; "Dickenson ... has been cast as ... a woman who looked at death the way we look at the internet: to find everything she knew" - Sophie Mayer). I didn't see the point of James Wilkes' piece, and Ross Sutherland's covered little new ground (for me anyway). Hannah Silva's "Composing Speech" dealt informatively with a topic new to me.

"The Line" by Katy Evans-Bush will have the widest appeal and is amongst the longest pieces. I don't think it needed to be so long: the tight-rope sub-plot doesn't earn its keep and there are longeurs - a half-page quote by AS Byatt on pleasure belongs elsewhere. When there's a list of "pet peeves ... combined with examples of excellence" that "runs down a spectrum of enjambment" the essay's at its most useful, but by then there's too little space left to discuss why "Many poetry tutors don't like to discuss [line endings] at all; there is such a taboo on discussing this most personal aspect of poetry" (p.194). This quote raises important, unanswered questions - why is it considered personal? Is there a taboo on all other personal aspects? I think I need more convincing before I can believe the discipline of WS Merwin, or the effectiveness of Bunting's breaks. I'm also not sure why in a book of this type we need to be told that "Used well, [end-rhyme] has an amazing galvanising effect on a poem" (p.200).

What I found most useful was how others might respond to line-break usages. Putting the important words at the start rather than end of the line in some readers "creates a sense of urgency as well as hesitancy, and disorients the reader, who then grabs for the emotional content as for a lifeline". Maybe so - it's a personal thing - but one that, I feel, isn't beyond the scope of experimental psychology. Maybe it's an acquired habit that only poetry-readers suffer from. How does putting heavy words at the start of lines produce more breathless urgency than unbroken prose? And I'd still like to know how we've reached a situation where gratuitously tidy line-breaks producing regular, boxed stanzas is considered preferable to irregular shapes or even a prose layout.

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