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.

Monday 26 December 2011

"Egg Printing Explained" by Katy Evans-Bush (Salt, 2011)

The poems (few of which have previously appeared in magazines) aren't easy to summarise though there are family-resemblances. On the back cover David Morley writes about "the cavalcade of forms and registers. The poems shift in mood and music". It's true. Several poems seems inspired by other texts, or events in other lives.

  • Several are "After" something, "for" someone, or begin with an epithet.
  • Several are triggered by paintings or songs
  • Three poems start by mentioning a story - "I know that anecdote of your father's: it begins/ as always with" ("My Hero"); "The mise-en-scène's well-known enough" ("A Christmas Play"); "The little goat had heard this story often" ("The Mountain Goat and the Mermaid"). By chance I've just read Rae Armantrout's "Generation" that begins "We know the story"
  • The lines of "Intelligent Album Rock" end with the same words as the lines of Pink Floyd's "Wish you Were Here".
  • "The Love Ditty of an 'eartsick Pirate" is a translation into piratese that's over 5 pages long. It begins
    It's time we be goin', me hearty, avast!
    When the night's nailed up its colours to its mast
    Like some swab loaded to the gun'les 'n' lashed to the plank

I was reading Stephen Burt while reading this book. Some of what he says of "Elliptical poets" applies here ("Elliptical poets treat literary history with irreverent involvement. They create inversions, homages, takeoffs on old or "classic" poems"; "Ellipticals caress the technical"; "jangling leaps from low to high diction; [they] like … to interrupt [themselves]"). Evans-Bush is well-embedded in the same zeitgeist, applying their ideas, trying on their tropes though without the rough edges and with fewer of the sharp ones. Transitions can be sudden, though she usually waits until a sentence ends, and she can just as easily produce person-centred, closured pieces.

She reminds me a little of John Tranter, who also writes in many forms, including "terminals" (the form of "Intelligent Album Rock"). Both Tranter and Armantrout are distrusters of language and grand narratives, employing intertextuality to such an extent that their works can be collages. Evans-Bush however is mobile along the language-trusting spectrum with uncooked narratives alongside the in-crowded, poetry-for-poets material. At times there's a whiff of workshop exercise, or at least of a restless resourcefulness that can squeeze and stretch an unpromising idea until it becomes publishable. Not all the poems are accessible. The mysteries begin even before the contents - there's a frontispiece saying only Secombesque which may have something to do with the David Secombe of the notes. Some of the poems are dedicated to "DS".

The sonnets that commence the book (and are scattered throughout) exhibit several relaxations - "What's Time" is metrically tight, especially initially

A year ago a day was like a year.
A minute and a minute were an hour;
an hour was what it took for us to hear
the tinkling of the crashing of a star

The abab rhyme pattern soon lapses into cxcx/ xxbx/ dd. I don't think this is enacting the rejection of schemas. "Radio Silence" has 12-syllabled lines and another unrigorous rhyme structure - line 1 rhyming with line 14, line 2 with line 13 (ah, a pattern!), but line 2 also rhymes with line 6, line 5 rhymes with lines 9 and 10 and the pattern's gone.

I'll jump to the middle of the book to sample a 10 page section which I hope isn't too unrepresentative

  • "The Night is Dark" begins

    You started with an image of yourself,
    reversed, as in a mirror. It was 3
    a.m. The night was dark, the streets were full
    of thieves: thieves of your heart, put there by you.

    "reversed" or "re-versed"? Why the line-break after 3? To make us think that "It" referred back to the image? Well, the first line's iambic pentameter and the other lines are nearly iambic. They're 10-syllabled, hence the line-break I guess. And what's been "put there" - the heart or the thieves? Or both? Later

    The falcon lives without love. And therefore
    you love the falcon. You pity his misfortune,
    unable to see him, since you are also hooded,
    and this unsilvering of the mirror's yours.

    Gone are the syllabics. Then the persona walks the streets. Finally

    ... It's too late
    It's 3 a.m. You've made what you're afraid of.

    It's too late though it's still 3 a.m. What's been made - the heart or the thieves? Mainstream, yes, but I liked it.

  • "You're in Bedlam" is a 4-stanza abab poem. The Notes give some background, how someone suggested that the material in the walls may have been able to record noises. The poem says "The noise is in the walls. We hear it daily" and ends with "You'll screech for ages when your song is sung". I like the final line, though I don't feel that the poem as a whole achieves its potential.
  • "Meditations on a Freudian's Lip" is a page-long near-anaphora. I don't get it ("Elliptical poets like insistent, bravura forms, forms that can shatter and recoalesce, forms with repetends" - Burt)
  • The notes for "After the Gasometer" are better than the poem
  • I don't get "The Starvefish". It's almost as if the poet got the starfish/starvefish idea and tried to make a poem from it. It's syllabic, with a 2/6 pattern (maintained by chopping words up - e.g. mys/tery) except for first line which has a syllable too many, and the last line which is a syllable short.
  • "Billy and the Days" is too long. One's tempted to construct a missing back- (or framed-, or fantasy-) story from the "mobile phone in a drawer in the hall,/ proof that he's dead". Is it a particular Billy?
  • I liked the fast-cutting "Intelligent Album Rock" ("Ellipticals almost always delete transitions" - Burt)
  • "Forth in July" is a straightforward enough narrative. I thought the poem ended at the bottom of the page, but there was 50% more. It ends prosaically with "My parents shower her/ with thanks and praise, and get up to shut off the water/ and go inside and change; it's been an adventure, but now we have to get ready for the parade".
  • "The desiring of practically everything" seems too long.
  • "Overland Homesick Blues (after Bob Dylan" is 2.5 pages of short, rhymed lines.

In summary there's something for everyone - she's a Jack of all trades, without being a master of none. I could easily believe that some pieces I don't get might be others' favourites.

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