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 July 2012

"The SALT book of younger poets", Roddy Lumsden and Eloise Stonborough (eds), (Salt, 2011)

This book has 3 or 4 poems by each of 50 poets born since the mid-80s who hadn't published a full collection at the time. It wasn't an open submission process - fair enough. I started by skimming through to get a flavour of what and who was there. I noted that

  • I've heard of a few of them - Niall Campbell, Amy De'ath, James Midgley, Helen Mort, Ahren Warner, Ben Wilkinson. Some already have poems in anthologies, and have published pamphlets. Some review for the Guardian, TLS, Poetry Review, PN Review, etc. Tall lighthouse, Pomegranite and Eric Gregory awards get several mentions.
  • I counted 12 people from Cambridge, 9 from Oxford, 5 from Warwick, 4 from UCL. Nearly all of them mention that they have a degree. Those that do either have an English (or Creative Writing) degree or don't mention their subject.
  • Jack Belloli's "Yurt" begins "Last night I learnt that "yurt" meant/ the imprint made in the earth by a tent/ before it came to mean the tent itself". I sometimes begin poems like that
  • Penny Boxall's "Penny-farthing" is an easy read - "Perched like a bird on a spun nest,/ this is how to soar while sitting still. ... both the giant/ and needy Jack ... the world a wheel of secret orbits/ whirring below and never touching"
  • Phil Brown's "Diptych" is in the form of non-cryptic Down and Across crossword clues
  • John Clegg's "Tribe" includes "They turn the lamb with a fan belt ... sleep in the wrecks of taxis ... Our only photographs are from above"
  • Oli Hazzard's "Prelude to Growth" begins "Tomorrow is watching today through the one-way mirror", ending with "the wind somersaulting down our throats"
  • Andrew Jamison's "The Starlings" begin to tackle this common topic thus "Everything, relatively speaking,/ is simple: a tree a tree, the sky the sky,// the clock on the wall the clock on the wall,/ a tick a tick, a tock a tock, time time.// And then come the starlings, tearing about,/ beautiful obliterations of the commonplace" but then has "going through the motions/ of their unchoreographed air show"
  • James Midgley's "Portrait of a pig" begins "The pig shifts/ as a mugger wind rifles it for possessions,// possessing a particular love/ for bristles like the sproutings on an old woman's face.// And though totally devoid/ of motor function, the pig// turns and snorts/like a lawn sprinkler. Fst Fst."
  • Eloise Stonborough is doing a DPhil on the connections between form and poetic personality in twentieth century poetry. I'd like to read the resulting thesis
  • Eloise Stonborough's "The Pharaoh's Embalmers" begins "The embalmers knew the brain for what it is:/ the upstart ancestor of phlegm"
  • Lavinia Singer's "Internal Memorandum" is 8 loosely rhymed (abab) stanzas ending with "So the seasons speed right on through December/ from blossom to snowflakes, changes of weather,/ but the internal memorandum is still there:/ Inside, we will, we must remember.". The memorandum announces 2 deaths, which helps explain its traditional nature.

There are very few received forms. Indeed, few forms of any kind except that a poem's stanzas tend to be equally sized rectangles. There's little that's minimalist. Though "Many of these poets embrace new technologies such as blogs, social networking and webzines" (back cover), there's little that's radical in form or content, and few social issues.

At first glance I liked poems by Jack Belloli, Niall Campbell, Sarah Howe, Ben Naier and Eloise Stonborough. I still don't get Amy De'ath's. I thought I'd focus on these poets. Re-reading Sarah Howe and Eloise Stonborough, I realized that they weren't quite my thing after all. That left -

  • Jack Belloli - The first 2 poems look at the story behind the formation of meaning. In the light of those, the 3rd, "On Completing a Pocket Jigsaw of "The Fighting Temeraire", becomes more clearly epistimological. My recollection of the painting is that it's by Turner and depicts the dumping of an old boat against a swirling sky. The first line is "It starts and ends with frames" - the jigsaw built from the outside; the painting completed by being framed. But constructing the jigsaw's not the end of constructing meaning.
  • Niall Campbell - "After the Creel Fleet" 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. "Hitching Lifts from Islanders" and "Bank Holiday" (in line 4, shouldn't "who's" be "whose"?) are more purely observational. The others feature the triangulation of Metaphors, leading to a more open-ended, enigmatic conclusion than traditional sonnets usually have. For example, "The Apple" speculates on the longevity of an apple that seemed made of wax. It ends with "so threading a thin wick into the flesh/ like its own white worm, I flared a match - // only I didn't, and I won't. I'll spark/ no light. I'll take the darkness, and the doubt." A "road less travelled" poem? I guess so. A dislike of murdering to dissect? A preference for observing and preserving rather than consuming? "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 meaning more to the bird.
  • Ben Naier - A poem in terza rima, then a poem of bulletmarked phrases shaped into a symmetric blob (the Gall of the title, I guess). The final poem summarises (pretends to summarise) "A Short History of Textiles" chapter by chapter - e.g. "Chapter 7 is dedicated to the presence/ of appliqué in the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald/ and his part in its meteoric rise in sales"

I found this an easier read than the Best British Poetry 2011 anthology. Here the poems seem more workshoppy, the poets less individualised (though I may be influenced by the poets here being represented by several poems, rather than one). It's not so much what's in these poems that puzzles me, rather why some things have been missed out.

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