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, 15 November 2011

"Electric Shadow" by Heidi Williamson (Bloodaxe, 2011)

"Fuelled by a residency at the London Science Museum's Dana centre, Williamson's fascination with science leads her to explore less usual territories for poetry, including mathematics, chemistry, and computer programming, as well as space travel, electricity, and evolution" (back cover). I suppose they are less usual. The science poems here are by no means the weakest in the book. The first poem for example, "Slide rule", starts and ends with

The universe is running away with itself
like a child on a red bike on Christmas day.

Somewhere the wrapping is still being opened.
The present gives itself again and again.


the child on a red bike

is running away with herself
like the universe on Christmas Day

I liked "Schrodinger's pregnancy test". I wonder how many people who've heard about Schrodinger's cat understand the point of it? After all if you toss a coin and cover it, no-one will know what it is until it's uncovered. If you lock a very ill cat in a cupboard it might die at any moment and nobody will know. So what's special about Schrodinger's cat? "The Travelling Salesman Problem" runs out of ideas too early. "Mobius Strip" is a sestina that spends its first stanza info-dumping before becoming a decent poem. The footnote to "If Then Else" says "If Then Else: A logic statement in high-level programming that defines the data to be compared and the actions to be taken as a result. There can only be one of two outcomes. There is no scope for ambiguity". Here's a sample stanza from the poem that's far too long

you age, Then
Else you age lifelessly

About 20 of the 53 poems are in couplets. 10 are in triplets. It could just as well have been the other way around - line and stanza endings don't seem to matter. "Static" and "No such thing" would be ok but for the heavy-handed portentious white space. I preferred "White". "Emily Cohen knits summer" was too minor. "Brodsky at the milling machine" sounded unfinished. "James Dean ..." starts with a good idea but lack stamina. I didn't like "Old tricks". In "The wind turbines" should "live" be "life"? That poem starts a weaker group of poems.

Not all the poems are as easy to understand as the headlining pieces might suggest. "Smoke and Apples" begins "He holds fire, wasting in his hand./ The crumbling tip of ash// reaches for his tensed fist.". Who is "holding fire" (i.e. not firing)? Actually , it's just a kids + cigarettes poem, though some deception's going on. "Flight" would be ok but for the over-used title and setting. The final poem, "Aurora", ends promisingly - "While every poem every written/ about the moon rises before me,/ I wait here, in the dark,// with my eyes wide open."

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