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, 3 February 2011

"The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street" by Tony Williams (Salt, 2010)

It took me a while to finish this, partly because of the word-count (many of the poems are long by today's standards) but also it's because several of the pieces were at the limit of my aesthetic range - were they much harder, I may have dismissed them. He's a step or so up from me without being out of sight - he's been in London Magazine, TLS, Poetry London as well as some magazines I've been in. We shared venues, and just occasionally we share techniques.

Visual and sonic formats vary, and aren't always in sync. "The Old Harlequin" is prose in a prose format. I had a piece of short prose in Acumen once. Called "Gold", it mixed facts and fiction in a sort of essay. I could have packed it into 4-line stanzas but chose not to, because the line/stanza breaks would have been largely superfluous. So when I read "Salt" I didn't get the point of the organisation on the page. There's "Notice of Death", where more sonic patterning creeps in - 8 6-lined stanzas where the rhyme/assonance/consonance scheme is, I think, abcabc abcxab abcbac aabcbc aabbcc ababcc abxcac abcbca. Further along, "The Civil War" has a abcd abcd abcd rhyme scheme, with rhymes as tight as any in the book, and the title poem has iambic rhyming couplets.

The use of indentation varies too. In the title poem (1 stanza, rhymed couplets) alternate lines are indented. In the next poem (4-lined stanzas, rhymed couplets) there's no indentation. The next poem (4-lined stanzas, rhymed couplets) indents each 3rd and 4th line. In "The Looking behind Walls Club" the indented lines are continuations, whereas in "Homage to Julian Metcalf" the indentation's random as far as I can see, with some lines triply indented.

Some characteristics are more constant - the frequent disjunction between title and content, the poems' conceptual structures, and their stance re mimeticism. There are a few list poems ("Poem for Tuesday", "The Corrugated Soul", "Metcalf's Development", "Gravel", etc) and a few others that are like lists ("Sand", "In Praise of Tinkering", etc). "Variations on a Form by Gottfried Benn and Babette Deutsch" is perhaps the most narratively driven piece. Most pieces fall between these limits, skipping from one idea to the next more by association than causation.

All the above isn't meant as criticism (though the purpose of the formatting as usual puzzles me). However it might be less than objective observation.

I like, amongst others, "Great Edwardian", "A Room of Old Presses Reprinting a Great Work", "Gravel" and "The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street" - within my comfort zone. "A Room of Old Presses Reprinting a Great Work" does indeed centre around the title's theme, brain-storming through "cokehead chatter in morse", "aero engines busy imagining their flights", "industrial pianos", "stalled tanks", "Enigma machines", "the smell of the sheets' lost virginity" to end fittingly with "beat out the drums of the tribe, barbaric to the ear/ but, understood, a psalm of beauty repeatable."

I didn't get (or like?) "Ed Parson Remembers", "The Vile Organ", "Metcalf's Development", "Homage to Julian Metcalf", and everything from "The Triumph or Orthodoxy" onward.

There are many passages I don't get. Here's the start of "The Civil War"

A church clock static on the midday chime:
the valley breathless like a desert bowl:
a boy shy in the lane in a too-big suit.
My brain no longer resists this strategem

but lolls instead in the meadow of its crime.

I can't help thinking the title could have been kinder to me. "my mind" appears later in the piece so I presume the use of "brain" on line 4 makes a deliberate point. What strategem isn't being resisted? Stilling the world? Pathetic fallacy? The English Civil War's alluded to - "the idea of Charles I" is later mentioned, and "The cloud is the vision of republicans". Some Mind/Body battle I presume, but there are too many dots for me to join. Besides, where's the fighting spirit? the puritanism? the panache? Yet, he can be snappy as in

         Matlock, you bitch,
you deluded me. Your cinema has closed down. I love you (p.6)

Here's the start of another poem, "The Town of K., in the Province of M."

How to render it, then, the old bank's
neoclassical facade? The thump
and swat of raw materials, the hardhat suit
peering along the roofline counting pigeons,
syllables. Coming past it in the rain,
a grid vanishing quietly in the fumes (p.12)

In fact the poem's nearly all about the old bank rather than the coyly hinted town or province, so why the "then" in the first line? What grid I wonder? Perhaps it's the fencing that builders put up. Perhaps "render" should (also) have its more literal meaning, the raw materials part of the current building works.

"The Winter Silage" begins

It squats in a landscape of walls gone green with lichen,
honesty's paper moons ragged like burst bongo skins,
draughty hedge-holes, stream of degenerate ice,
and sections of concrete pipeline
neatly nearby in arrested quagmires

which uses imagery and description in a familiar way, but why is "stacked" isolated? Why not "It squats in a landscape of lichened walls"? What is "degenerate ice" all about?

I think it's a very literary book, allusions being to literary styles as much as to landscapes and Midland cities. Certainly worth a read.

Other Reviews

  • Carrie Etter
  • Frances Leviston (The Guardian) ("Just as Williams's poems resist the usual lyric formulae, so they resist our attempts to understand them by the usual means." - which is perhaps why I struggled)
  • JS (Dr Fulminare)
  • Kevin Higgins ("The poet Williams’s work most resembles for me is Glyn Maxwell" - I can see that)
  • Ben Wilkinson (TLS)
  • Sean O'Brien (Poetry Review) ("The Marvellian title poem is stunning")
  • David Green

No comments:

Post a Comment