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, 28 April 2011

"The Way I Dressed During the Revolution" by Jane Weir (Templar, 2005)

Few poems are shorter than sonnet-length, and those that are ("The First Time", "South Cemetary Visitor's Map") aren't always the best. She's not a crisp writer, and can need more than one try before things become clear. Several poems are longer than a page. The 1st of "Recovery"'s 15-lined stanzas starts with "When I cough no matter whether/it's short and raspy or endless/ like a marching army on slush and ice,/ you're attentive. You always get up,/ answer with a look, always follow/ up with deft touches.". I suspect the line-breaks are there only because later there's "their petals tigering/ through an alchemy of winter light" which in prose would be too purple. "The Match Breaker" begins "She handled me with skill,/ setting me down on a chair,// as if I were a dare at a country fair,/ to poke fun at.. 2-lined stanzas this time. Well, it adds visual variety I suppose.

There were several mixed metaphors and analogies that I struggled with, e.g. -

  • "Like rhyming couplets let me savour/ all of you and all the work you continue to do." (p.21) - The rhyming couplets are being equated to "you" rather than to"me", or "me savouring". Even so, it's a rather stretched analogy.
  • "Swathes of sweat/ made great strides across/your face, neck/ as you bent double" (p.28) - "made great strides" seems inappropriate here. Also the swathes of sweat probably aren't necking.
  • "The pond went platinum under an ice sun" (p.32). "went platinum" is a term from the record industry that seems misplaced here.

There were also places where things have been said in a flashy (rather than poetic) way, the similes ornamental rather than structural, bringing to mind ideas that don't fit the poem. E.g.

  • "I leave the table unsided, cooker half cleaned,/ though I insist on putting out the windows eyes/ by drawing the blinds" (p.41; "putting out eyes" sounds violent)
  • "Then our conversations take on the colour/ of elastic released from a swollen wrist" (p.41)

"Lace Swans" has a more carefully judged balance between tenor and vehicle. It's immediately followed though by "Aria", which starts "We take her up to the cottage./ She wants to try it before/ she makes a final decision,/ in the same way you tentatively/ taste, sniff at something/ foreign like a soft cheese.". It uses some of the shortest lines and disruptive line-breaks in the book when the content's prosaic. Again I have trouble with a simile - is it "taste or sniff", "taste then sniff", or (despite the line-break) is the sniffing clause separate from the tasting one? The introduction of foreignness becomes apt.

Parenthood's a recurrent theme, in particular coping with the growing distance between parent and adolescent, and meeting friends from pre-parenthood days. "Florentines" begins "Like Venetian merchants/ pulling the cords of their/ purse strings we grab chairs/ draw ourselves/ round the kitchen table". I don't know why Florentines and Venetian are mixed up (maybe Florentines are being eaten) but I like the idea of 2 friends meeting after years to flaunt their produce (and to draw themselves). The "purse strings" analogy works as far as the seating arrangement's concerned, but are they going to buy or not? A line or 2 later "my pitchfork eyes/ toss a florin for you to go first". Ah, so the purse isn't closed. How can you toss a florin with a pitchfork? And isn't a florin a lot of money? Later "you open two buttons on your shirt,/ steep sloping terraces of chest hair./ I run my fingers through vintages/ of my hair, both of us knowing/ a knee length boot has trampled there" Where is "there"? If a terrace is steep need we be told it's sloping? But "vintages of my hair" is nice.

"Cigar" works for me. Though other things are hinted it, perhaps in the end it's only a cigar. By the end of the book I think I was getting the hang of the reading style I'd need to adopt to get the most out of it.

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