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, 2 August 2012

"A Scattering" by Christopher Reid (Arete, 2009)

4 sequences about the poet's dead wife. The first was written in Crete where "Bread, torn for lack of a knife,/ and three oranges make/ sufficient picnic/ by the side of the road" and "Slopes of haggard boulders frown down at the road" - which sounds like prose. Then there's

Glib analogies!
Makeshift rhymes!
Please pardon the crimes
      of your husband the poet,
as he mazes the pages
of his notebook, in pursuit
      of some safe way out.

which is easily paraphrasable.

I liked the first part of the "The Unfinished" section, about the last moments. In part 3 there's more prose - "The hospice bed/ bearing my wife/ stood in a hushed/ back room, moored fast/ to the physical facts/ of this singular life". I liked the title poem. It begins "     I expect you've seen the footage: elephants,/ finding the bones of one of their own kind/ dropped by the wayside, picked clean by scavengers/ and the sun, then untidily left there,/      decide to do something about it.//      But what exactly? They can't, of course,/reassemble the old elephant magnificence;// they can't even make a tidier heap. But they can/ hook up bones with their trunks and chuck them/      this way and that way. So they do". You can see where that analogy's going though. I liked "Soul". "Flowers in Wrong Weather" is has a terza rima rhyme scheme, unmetred. "Exasperated Piety" is 20 lines of abba rhyming, even-lines indented, unmetred.

The final sequence, "Lucinda's Way", includes

But I never saw you in either Shakespeare or Chekhov,
your two great loves.
I never saw you in the parts they wrote for you. Nobody did.

Brave trade: to step into that box of brightness
and be someone utterly else. An object. An opposite.

Is that why actors are so routinely mocked and reviled?

Maybe, but why all the line-breaks? It's restrained eulogy; anecdotes leading to reflection and analogy. It's bound to be moving, but in comparison with prose counterparts would it stand out? He recalls the times that she looked like a ghost. He recalls what she wanted the garden to be like, how it is now. But it won the Costa and has been widely praised, so I must be missing something.

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