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.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

"Spinning Plates" by Richie McCaffery (HappenStance, 2012)

Poems from some quality magazines ("The Dark Horse", "The Rialto", "Smiths Knoll", "3:AM", etc.), with lots of imagery. The first poem, "The professional", is characteristic. It begins "You ask what I do for a living/ and I don't think I can say.". The context of the discussion never becomes clear. The narrator's questions are "like wasps" or "will take you many lungs to satisfy"; the questioner has a "dolphin smile", a "signature like snake-crossed sand" - all comparisons with fauna, though the narrator's trademark left on cups is an inanimate "faint hairline crack" - "subtle, half-bearable damage". Comparisons of the animate and inanimate pervade the pamphlet. "Tesserae" begins

She told me how she lost her first,
the ordeal in a 1970s avocado bathroom

Soon we realise that she's talking about a first-born. It ends with

floorscapes of the great abandoned villas
hidden in soil too fertile for burial

the lost child a piece of a lost mosaic in an abandoned, buried villa. But what does the final line mean? That in the mother's grand dreams or busy life there was no space to mourn?

There are several poems about mothers or a mother - abandoned at birth, pierced, and orphaned. I think I'd have liked to know if it's always the same mother because then the interpretation of one poem will be more affected by the others.

I liked "Dedication", "Spinning Plates" and "Rust" (though for the latter I required a dictionary: a "cilice" is a chain worn strapped tight around the upper thigh for "corporal mortification"; a "gin" can be man-trap). In "Ash", stanzas 4 and 6 would have been enough for me. They're fine.

Beaches, lungs and dead flies feature, and other life-forms are often dead too - "fossil shells", "anthology of wild flowers", "Mammoth tusk". Only the dead survive. The pamphlet has quite a lot about "collecting" and hoarding, the burden of memory, the cost of letting go - "Decluttering at sixteen was my therapy". "7 Pudden Wynd" is based on a neat idea. It (and the book) ends with "And I can't decide, from the outside/ whether it's a blessing or a curse to never/ be able to lose something, or someone".

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