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, 12 April 2012

"Speaking Without Tongues" by Jane Monson (Cinnamon, 2010)

The blurbs are interestingly chosen. Here are 2 extracts

  • "Reading a Jane Monson poem is like walking into the world of a brightly lit photograph" - Helen Ivory
  • "These enigmatic prose poems ... must be negotiated like unfamiliar rooms in darkness" - John Freeman

Are these poems "enigmatic" or do they exhibit "a generous, honest voice, a poetics of openness" (Luke Kennard)? I can imagine these poems provoking a range of reactions even from a single reader. On my initial reading I read the first 4 pieces and skimmed the rest. I was looking for foot-holds - phrases or whole poems. There's more variety than might at first appear. For the moment I think I'll show, not tell ...

  • "Babysitting" begins "Anna holds her arms up high while I undress her. In the bathroom she crashes the toothbrush around her teeth, foams at the mouth while I stand in the doorway looking past her head to the form that towers in the mirror. At her bedside, she introduces me to her doll". It ends by repeating some of the prose with line-breaks.
  • "The Prose Poem" begins - "That night, she got down on her hands and knees and placed a wolf in the middle of the floor". Then "She took away the walls and put oaks in their place." Then "Finally, she did away with herself - lost the feeling of being watched". Again, it's a recognisable trajectory, an alternative to "The Thought Fox" perhaps.
  • "Speaking Without Tongues" is "about" conversation on a train. "Shadows animate the train windows; they puppet the textures of silence, flight-ways of hands catch and knit words mid-air ... By night, their conversation twins in the glass".
  • "Visible Speech" is "about" peat-burning - "Once lit, these packed cuts of land, ease themselves away in smoke; return themselves to the earth as powder ... they become the fire's thrive; its thundering swallow, the aching bass line of the cottage's warmth. Outside, the tongue of the chimney conducts them back into the world again: escapees, cast-outs, ex-objects, re-named and unheld, they disappear mid-sentence, the sky their paper now."
  • Object Poem is more an essay - "We do not write about the object - we write about the shadow it casts or the reflection it throws back at us."
  • "Weather Quartet" is a poem
    Winter is [...]
    Spring turns [...]
    Summer is [...]
    Autumn [...]

    Each year,
    they speak over one another

I'll be reading this book again.

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1 comment:

  1. "Speaking Without Tongues" by Jane Monson is enlightening and refreshing.