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, 3 January 2012

"Taking Account" by Peter Gilmour (HappenStance, 2011)

At the launch on 10/12/2011 in Edinburgh the publisher praised the lovely syntax of these poems, some of which have appeared in PN Review, Smiths Knoll and The Rialto. The poet said that by writing poems about past events you remember in new ways, discover new things. He was careful about the I/persona overlap, but in these poems where the voice is the same throughout, the poet and persona can easily fuse. The subject matter's sorted into four broad sections: I) a wife's suicide; II) the husband's recovery; III) a father's death followed by the son's self-assessment; IV) More recovery, a mother's death, more self-assessment.

Section I begins with "Rupture", a somewhat deceptive piece in that it's unclear when or whether we leave Realism. I think it's best read as metaphor. A husband drives off the road, waking his wife. He keeps driving, "Skidded, round and round/ near a hundred times, dizzied out of our minds/ and when we stopped, facing back the way we'd come". Then we get "Overkill"

I thought of food parcels
to begin with, not any kind of poison.
All I can think of these days
is the degree of desperation:
six suicide packs. You only needed one.

"Solicitude" recounts events with equal directness

I married a woman who killed herself
My younger son looked for her in the stars
I wondered how on earth she would find us
if she ever came back. Leave message,
my sons said, in bottles and under stones
and in the earth where once she planted flowers.

And so they did. Message after message.

Like section I, section II starts obliquely. "Different kind of beast" is about a dog being found in clearing - the black dog "a stranger to me as I watched her". Depression is beginning to recede.

In "Stones and pebbles" he finds the stones that his wife had assembled in the hearth. In "Convalescence" he finds consolation in arranging stones. In "Husbandry", the raking of leaves is calming.

"Finally" ends section III. It is one of the poems about assessment

Those are the masts of ships moving above the corn.
I seem to have reached my destination, the end
of a pilgrimage whose beginnings are obscure

"Reckoning" in section IV is again about looking back, self-estimating a life - one of the few poems that consider choice. Should the persona stick or twist? And how long will this reckoning go on?

In earlier sections, poems like "Genealogies" and "Out of Step" parents don't come out of it well. Towards the end, parents make amends. The book ends with "Dying", about a mother's death, light becoming solid beyond the window.

We seemed to see these things together: she from her bed,
I standing by her, one hand with spread fingers on her back

(wasted now like the rest of her), the other pointing,
with amazement, I imagine, at these hints of glory.

The last line of the poem and book is

Will there be hints again when I go, or are these enough?

The previous poem, "Last Place", mentions that "a bright self would rise behind the dying one". The poem before that ,"Reckoning", wonders whether the poet's gone far enough, whether it's worth striving higher, further. Such pre-occupations are a timely end to a pamphlet that unsentimentally records the premonitions and aftermaths of life-changing events, youthful exuberance eclipsed by the responsibilities of parenthood and adult love.

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