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.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

"Pandorama" by Ian Duhig (Picador, 2010)

I've never been sure about Duhig. I don't know if he does what he does so much better than others do. He's given more license I suspect. The High/Low mix could be considered PoMo or evasive. I like best his longer poems - "A Summer's Fancy", "A Gift of Boxes" (perhaps my favourite), and "Jericho Shandy" - shades of Larkin. Of the shorter pieces I think "Heredity" works best. "Jingwei Birds", "Beggar's Song", "Roisin Bain", "Darkness Visible", "A Room With a View", and "Alferi Stock" don't convince. "Via Negativa" is longer - a list of "Not ... but" phrases - Not church Latin but medical Latin./ Not Catechism but questionnaires./ Not Pentecost tongues but echolalia". Yes, I notice the Dante reference in the title and the more topical reference in the final stanza, but in the end it's just a list of phrases, a few of which are ok. "Whistling Or Just After" is in pieces too. I liked "the Welsh" section, but I don't think there needed to be 2.5 pages of fragments. "Braque's Drum" has its moments, but at 24 lines feels long. I don't see what "Death Panels" is trying to achieve so singsongingly.

"Border Ballad" alludes for 12 xaxa stanzas, but to what end? In Stanza 8 the Science/Maths allusions fall away - "This border ballad's walls first rose/ where Angle Land lacked order;/ its laws were theoretical,/debatable its border// The pele tower of its verse contains/ a fear it will not hold, that closed inside, none lived or died/ stayed young nor yet grew old". "Angle Land" alludes back to the Flatland book and to England - the land of the Angles. I had to look up "Pele Towers" - watch towers on the Scotland/England border (incidentally, Heisenberg was interned near Huntingdon, Cambs).

His poems often kick off with a factoid. A quick trawl came up with these references, some of which are mentioned a few times (I'm sure I've missed many).

  • Art - Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Giotto, Cornell, Jeff Wall, Magritte
  • Literature - GB Shaw, Keats, Ovid, Jonson, Wilde, Nabokov, Mandelstam, Celan, Stevens, Dante, Paz, Burton ("Anatomy of Melancholy"), Sterne, Koestler ("Darkness at Noon"), Coleridge (Porlock), Ashbery, Bruce Chatwin, Nerval, Alan Bennett, Auden, Eliot, Twain
  • Science/Maths - Einstein, Bohr, Edwin Abbott ("Flatlands"), Hilbert, Schrodinger
  • Misc - Tarkowsky, Debord, Marx

He has more contemporary references too - Turnitin software, Goths, the Stranglers, etc. The 2 pages of notes at the end of the book are worthwhile.

Other Reviews

  • David Wheatley (The Guardian) - "Duhig stays true to the combination of high seriousness and low clowning that has always marked his work ... Allusion in Duhig, for instance, typically entails affectionate mimicry ... The informational overload we might fear is deliberate: we are forever somewhere between revelation and madness, with no clear pointers as to which is which."
  • Katy Evans-Bush (Horizon Review). - "It is demanding, and it’s no use worrying about not getting allusions: Duhig makes free use of the knowledge he possesses, and doesn’t try to second-guess which bits of it his readers might or might not share. ... Duhig raids what Michael Donaghy called the ‘posh shop’ of Western civilisation, makes off with what he needs, and takes us on a rattling tour of his spoils. But while the shop may be posh, it was built by builders ... Wallace Stevens is a presiding spirit ... Everywhere in this book are boxes ... Drums are everywhere in this book"
  • Natalie Whittle (The Financial Times) - "But Duhig is also fond of a more cryptic, riddling style of verse, often applied to his most serious indictments of modern life ... There is an interest in pathways and a respect for the people who build them"
  • David Green

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