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.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

"The Dark Film" by Paul Farley (Picador, 2012)

There's always been a nostalgia component to Farley's work. W.N.Herbert, on the inside cover, writes that Farley "has the knack of both establishing and undermining the securities of memory purely through turn of phrase" but in this book I think too many poems depend almost purely on nostalgia. Admitting to it nostalgically (as he does in "A Thousand Lines") doesn't make it any better.

The collection begins with "The Power" - a list of imperatives, ending with "Now look around your tiny room/ and tell me that you haven't got the power". Maybe it's not about being a writer.

It was at the 6th poem, "Newts", that I began to wonder whether nostalgia had taken him over. "The Airbrake People" restored my faith - the narrator imagining a lost tribe of unseen people responsible for the sighs "as if the night itself received a puncture". With "Saturday Irons" we're nostalging again, the dials on 11 - "flaying flexes/ with a repeating diamond adder pattern ... rusty shields scorched into shirts-for-school", ending with "Those irons sank/ like dead-weights where they'd once steamed full ahead/ across the wrinkled fabric of the world,/ into the kitchen cupboard's dark sea bed." ("One of the most disarmingly original poets now writing", wrote Alan Brownjohn)

"The Planetarium" is ok and "Odometer" is tidy. "Pop" is very light. "Gas" is typical of many poems in the book. It starts well enough - "Seeing the country from a train/ I've grown convinced its gasholders/ in fact are used to house the spite/ and gloom of post-industrial towns". There are 15 lines of padding before we reach the final line - "Everybody wears a mask". It's short speculative fiction with enhanced imagery, as is "The Dark Film" (whose I idea I think I've heard before anyway). "Brent Crude" is more interesting, but it's followed by "The Milk Nostalgia Industries".

Here's one stanza of five that comprise "Peter O'Sullevan"

and my aunt who lived in Aintree would turn the sound down on her telly
so we heard the hooves, the 'real horses', and something is gained and lost
years before I'll read a word of the verse which by fits and starts will lead me
to the Classical world, its stables and silks, but my wires are already crossed

It's abab, though with lines this long the impact of the form's diluted. This is one of the poem's more obviously "poetic" stanzas. Even so, the language avoids being put under any pressure.

There's more left in his nostalgia-kitty - "Nostalgie Concrète" uses the idea of time going backwards - "I never want to see ... a biro drink/ its words". Of course, the basic idea's been used several times. Is this a new twist? No.

"A Thousand Lines" nostalges about schools, ending "They should have had you stay behind/ and made you write a thousand lines./ I will not write nostalgic poems./ I will put these things out of mind" ("'The Dark Film' is a profound meditation on time", it says on the back cover).

"Brawn" contains "a waiter brings us testa in cassetta/ which, in another tongue, means 'head in a box'". Quite what we're supposed to make of a narrator who expends 2 lines to say this I don't know. I think his earlier books are better.

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