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, 3 May 2012

"After the Creel Fleet" by Niall Campbell (HappenStance, 2012)

The poems come from Magma, Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, etc. They're confident - I didn't sense any self-consciousness, or anxiety that the poem won't be understood. Several of the poems are dominated by a comparison of one thing to another

  • a reunion is like returning to a well (wells feature in 3 poems)
  • beached whales are like an old couple
  • a glassblower is like a musician
  • grain falling from a sack is like stars in the sky
  • one strand of a rope breaking is like one person dying
  • a bath is like a rowing boat?

Often these poems creep up on the similes from behind, unannounced, making the poems feel more contemporary.

The title poem begins "I never knew old rope could rust, could copper/ in its retirement as a nest for rats". Observation is combined with analogy - "one strand might snap ... yet thousands would remain still intertwined". Other poems adjust the balance between observation and analogy. When there's an extended metaphor, there's often another agent introduced to triangulate the comparison. "The Tear in the sack" compares the spilt grain to stars - but gets "a nocturnal bird, say, a nightjar", to observe the parallels - stars and grain presumably meaning more to the bird. The poem I'll concentrate on, "When the Whales Beached" also has an extended metaphor. Another version is published in The Literateur. In such poems the tenor and vehicle need to be convincingly presented, and a comparison suggested (by using "like", juxtaposition, etc). Then a moral of sorts is derived. How does this poem enact this?

It could have said that there were 2 whales, and then itemized the similarities between whales and people. Instead, we're left to work out the whale connections while we told about the old people; how if one of an old couple goes, the other follows, as they've always done (The quiet/union[ship] of sometimes being the one/
 to lead, sometimes to follow.). Even if one whale's freed, it returns to the shore, with a power like "Love,/and yet so much more than.". The poem continues " And these//who softly climbed the aching stair
/ of shore together and didn't fall short" (the Literateur version has "and there, stalled" rather than "and didn't fall short").

This analogising is framed. The poem begins with "Dear," and mentions how "we" tried to save the whales, establishing the solidity of the image by mentioning spades, etc. The tenor and vehicle are connected by the narrator saying how the whales remind him (her?) of his grandparents. In the final couplet love and "we" return, adding a third vertex to the tenor+vehicle - "How we stood by as if we’d nothing/ 
to say, when, love, I did, I do". "Nothing to say" reminds us of the earlier "quiet union"; "I do" might be from the marriage ceremony. Neat.

In these shorter lyrical pieces I'm reminded of Robin Robertson and Jon Redmond. Campbell has a gift for quotable phrases. In "The messenger" for example "He sits in his dark room, awaits a deepest reading/ to draw him from the island, like a thorn".

"Le penseur", and the block of poems starting with the poem "Towards winter" puzzle me, and I'm less convinced by his management of longer poems - "Songs of Kirilov" is more fragmentary than episodic.

One to watch.

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