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, 1 March 2011

"The Beachcomber's Report" by Paul Maddern (Templar, 2010)

At the moment I'm coming up against a sequence of books that I'm struggling with. Maybe this is a good sign. Let's start at the beginning

  • Poem 1 has only 3 unique line-endings, and only 6 unique lines. The line pattern is 1 2 3 4 5 6 2 4 1 3. The rhyme pattern is A A B B C C A B A B.
  • Poem 2 has 5 5-lined stanzas.
  • Poem 3 is a block of 10 lines.
  • Poem 4 is 2 4-lined stanzas, each line 4 syllabled, each final line indented.
  • Poem 5 is a prose-aligned page, followed by a haiku

On the face of it, bags of variety. Poem 3 ("Kelpdings") begins

At low tide I put the slip into boat-slip
and landed my ass on the line
where green algae gives way to brown.
Reduced to sea level view ...

which has the straining for effect that I'm allergic to. In an attempt to enliven the language, stray allusions enter - what risk is s/he taking when putting his ass on the line? What's the point of the jokiness of the first line?

Prose layouts are sometimes used. Few pieces in this book have a stronger case for prose formatting than "Codcakes and Kites" or "Scoil" and yet they're littered with line-breaks. Why?

I liked "The Beachcomber's Report". It begins with

The best place to hear the ocean in a shell
is at a plain wooden desk in a bare room,
your eyes closed,

yet the next poem (whose style isn't so different) has initial caps, stanza 3 for example beginning with

And yet these candles are like those made
Of the finest Shropshire pines
Found between Oswestry and Ellesmere,

What's the significance of the capitals? I liked some of "Merrill Abroad" (though I had to look-up to see if Merrill spent time in Greece). I didn't see the point of "Preface". And on it goes.

The "Survey" sequence summarizes the book for me. Each poem has an epigraph (whose sources, for what it's worth, are in the end-notes). Section I is a list of 13 roman-numbered sentences - "I. The culling of doves on palace lawns", etc. Section II is in long-lined unrhymed couplets. Section III has short-lined couplets - xa xa xb xb. Section IV is 3 6-lined stanzas, each indented more than the previous one. Section V is short-lined, single-stanza'd, centred (maybe shaped?). Section IX is half left-aligned and half right-aligned. Section X has lines with 3 levels of indentation, seemingly employed at random. Simple and strong it is not.

Generally there's too much gratuitous variation and obliqueness for my liking, trying to make poetry grow in marginal land (the writing of William Strachey, etc), the exterior not matching the interior. I think I prefer his shorter pieces - "The Hitch" for example - where the condensing hasn't time to engender mould.

"The Department of Human Tissue" is drily witty - "Look at our website regarding body donation. We went live last Friday. We have twenty bodies, give or take, per year, all from within our jurisdiction"

"Effacé - for Nora" is a sonnet (rhyme scheme aabba cdefa gbgb, I think) with allusions to Proust [at least, so I thought - later it was pointed out to me that Odette, etc belong to "Swan Lake"], which begins and ends

Yours was the face I almost lived a lie for,
that might have brought about the 2.4,
not this sterile A4 annual report
Nibble canapés my swan, forget
this mincing prince who hoped we might be more.

I rather liked that. Making it the first poem would have helped me better understand the (reason for the) book's techniques.

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