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.

Friday, 21 September 2012

"Waiting for the Night-Rowers" by Roger Moulson (Enitharmon, 2006)

  • "In the landscapes that Moulson imagines or revisits, rivers, seas, stones, urban detritus and people seem filled with longing. Their voices alternate between dogmatic statement, restraint and song. At times this leads to masterfully controlled slapstick, at others to breathtaking lyricism" (the blurb)
  • "Original is a word often employed and frequently misapplied. Here it is fully deserved" (Peter Porter)

What are the thoughts of A field of stones? How do the hills and windows feel when waiting for the night-rowers? I've never given it any thought, but the poems with those titles are far more than workshop exercises.

We want to fly without any weight.
It only needs one of us to do it.
Just think, if all the stones suddenly lifted up,
people would say, The land is sinking.
The land is leaving the stones in a field of air

Or it might be night
so our flight darkens the stars.
We'd make patterns no one else would see.

(from "A field of stones")
A mist is rumour of their breath,
rehearsal of stroke, cheating the ears of those
that dread the silent dipping of the blades


[Lovers] empty themselves entirely, prepared
to be displaced, to bear the passage of the rowers

(from "waiting for the night-rowers")

In "The Stepping Stones" the persona enters the fray. What will win out - water or stone? Coming across a river (feminized), the persona "reached beneath her for a rock". Later the river says "Lean into me waist to waist ... Keep talking, move your hips" while "Under water the stones I stepped on"

In "Thornwick" the persona encounters water and stone again.

Plush red anemones plump the rocks. In cracks
green ones wave purple tips, languid pointers

that say 'This is the sea. The rules are different.'
Weed channels shine with chalk, the submerged limbs
of bodies waiting till the moon says 'White rock!
Which stones will leave their deeps and climb the cliff front
to see a starlit land where shadows swim?'

He has a more tricksy, unconvincing side

The albatross is steering clear
of mariners and such. The crow's
not doing anything disgusting.
While doves are listening for the obvious
rhyme, the grounded lark keeps stumm,
and swans are all reduced to scale.

There's a king but no queenfisher,
a night but not dayingale

Overall I wasn't so keen on the formal pieces, though I'm glad to see them there. "The Land Called Lost" is a tightly-formed sonnet with rather too tightly constrained content. "The Riding Room" is less tight. "My Understanding of Shoe Leather" is a sestina. "Thornwick" and "The Courtyard Sweeper's Kindness" are in abcabc stanzas.

"To the difficult Resolution" and "Down Addingford Steps" are each over 5 pages long. I didn't get into them. I didn't get "The Side Room". On the plus side "Rowing Grandma" is moving. I liked "A Field of Stones", "Waiting for the Night-rowers", "Half the pool was lit and half in shadow", "Horses", and some others. I liked the book more than the books of many a better known poet.

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