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.

Monday, 12 November 2012

"Counting Eggs" by Peter Daniels (Mulfran Press, 2012)

Well, I know I go on about poets publishing books before they have enough material, but this, Peter Daniel's first book, has taken over 20 years to assemble. Not that he's been silent all that while - 5 pamphlets (he's won the Poetry Business competition twice) and a TLS competition winner attest to that. The blurbs are from Carol Rumens, Philip Gross and Moniza Alvi.

The poetry is unostentatious, personal without being intimate. It's never pretentious - equally it's often not about the immediate subject matter, nor do the endings always provide the key. It's easy to believe that all the poems contain something he's observed though the observations don't inevitably lead to some insight about love or death; they're allowed to developed their own extra meanings. There's little form (except in the translations). "Therese" and "Family" are in xaxa quadrains. "Flying" and "The Experts" are in couplets whose second-line endings have something in common. Some poems (e.g. "Housework") are lighter than others but they're no less well written.

There are many links between successive poems, and some themed sequences. The first few poems are about death.

  • "The Pump" begins "After piped water, the pump becomes redundant,/ the handle chained down at the side: at rest, if you like", ending with "and at last/ she could find time to become somebody's grandmother./ Somebody look at the pump and think of her."
  • In "The Jar", the persona opens a new jar of jam and a creature crawls out. The persona traps the creature back in so that he can return the jar and get a refund, but in doing so kills the creature.
  • In "Mice" the persona clears 2 buckets that have dead mice in them - one bucket dry, one under a hand-pump, containing water. The persona's dreams involved drowned mice, so he remembers to cover up the water bucket but not the dry one, even though he thinks the mice in it might have started eating each other.
  • "Insects" begins with "Insects, you know, have no/ genuine existence"

For a few poems there's a Flying theme, then Mountains, then America. I like "Mall of Mammoths" - "his body is now a dark brown leather/ like my second-hand flying jacket/ with several additional sleeves". Then Italy and London feature (I like "Shoreditch Orchid") , then there are poems about changes triggered by war or the seasons (I like "Mr Luczinski Takes a Tram"), then Trains feature (I like "The Special"). A few poems about Preservation/Containment follow (I like "The Monkey of Forgetting") which segues into a phase where religious terms are used ("Natural History Museum" keeps us on our toes - another Mammoth poem). In "At the Forest Pool" there's a speaking pool in a wood. There are lots of buses too. "In the Deep" becomes more serious - "My element chooses me./ I let the bucket lift me up/ and out from the deep watery murk, my hemlock".

Towards the end of the book there's a "Roots" section. I like "St Katherine's Dock" which ends "Refugees from pogroms, eight to a room./ Little black fishes gathering round the piers". In "Tchotches" household objects can only partly evoke a past - a Russian nesting doll "opens up for two generations,/ then one more, blank and unforthcoming". "Liverpool St" is neat, one of a few poems about couples, or complimentary parts of an individual ("Splendour" is wild).

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