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 10 December 2012

"Between Two Windows" by Oli Hazzard (Carcanet, 2012)

Lots of variety (of trust in mimemis and language amongst other things), though it's short of narrative. Hopkins, Borges, Hejinian, Stevens, Ashbery and Rimbaud are quoted or mentioned.

  • "True Romance" is a palindrome where lines are the units - i.e. the first line (fittingly, "The window I saw myself in was a room") matches the last line, etc
  • I read the first paragraph of "Home Poems" and barely skimmed the rest.
  • "A Few Precepts" is a list of twisted sayings, interesting in part, but a list. ("With Hindsight" isn't much different, ending with "Truth is wasted on the tongue").
  • "Some Shadows" is a sestina where one voice challenges the poetic, synaesthetic imagery of the other - "trees/ Can't be seen without, in a sense, being read"
  • "Pantoum in Which .." doesn't work for me.
  • In "Two Versions of 'Fabliau of Florida'" the lines of one version are anagrams of the corresponding lines in the other version.
  • "Badlands" has a gimmicky layout - 4-lined stanzas where the 1st line is indented and the 4th line (5 syllabled) starts halfway along the page.
  • I don't get "Solfege" at all - a waste of a page. ("Solfege" according to Wikpedia is "a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable").
  • "A Week in the Life" is just a week's worth of images, 3 a day.
  • In "Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?" each line is a palindrome
  • I like "Outside", though I'd rather the imagery were embedded more realistically. It begins "All through the afternoon the sound like water pouring into bowls/ fills the empty corridors of the house/ like an ache spinning through a tooth". Then "Too quickly the sound of water/ falls into itself. Through the empty corridors of the house/ I move like a tooth in a bowl, spat/ from the inside out" (?) ending with "I hear water pouring/ inside out".
  • "Prelude to Growth" begins with "Tomorrow is watching today through the one-way mirror./ Something is taken from each, exchanged for something else, more/ or less valuable". There's sand, dust, powdery skin, a cement-mixer, an ice-cream van, milk and oil. At the end "we see the whole event/ unfolding very slowly,// the wind somersaulting down our throats". I can't follow the imagery.
  • "Sonnet"'s rhyme scheme is abb??b??b?ccdd, I think, with no particular syllabic or rhythmic pattern
  • S1S2S3
    "A Walking Bird" has "the wind gargles itself in the chimney". Some (maybe 2) people are looking for some evidence about Life or the World, or Belief. Nature is investigated with nets, in vain. When inside, they hear how "the thunder outside/ rolls its stone across the cave-/mouth". Then they seem to give up on research and external reality; they scrunch up papers for kindling and watch "shadows roam the ceiling". 3 7-lined stanzas. The indent pattern is 0,0,0,1,2,1,0 for all the stanzas. The syllable pattern is shown in the table. Words are broken to achieve this level of regularity (e.g. "scrunch/ing") but why the half-hearted conformance? Are we supposed to notice?
  • "Three Summaries" is 3 long stanzas which share many phrases.
  • "Martedi Grasso" begins "An infant left unexposed/ to linguistic stimulus/ will automatically begin to speak/ Enochian, the language/ of the angels" (I thought the language was Phriggian, the first word spoken meaning 'bread'). In stanza 2 several words are broken across lines without being hyphenated ("lamb/ent", "restra/int", "co/unted", "m/anifesting"). The notes say that the poem borrows from Borges, Duchamp, Peter Ackroyd, David Starkey,etc
  • I like the tone of "Sphinx". With a title like that, the poem shouldn't be expected to provide clear answers.
  • "Leaving the City of Acupuncture" has "windows blurred in the precision of their pixels:/ How to signify what meant to you? The rain in the windows/ Shaving itself new?"
  • In "Kayak" "the sky had thickened to the colour of a mirror/ calloused with hothoused breath". At the end the kayaker leans over "as if to see what he could see/ beyond the valve of his own reflection". Valve?

Clearly there's an interest in truth, proof and representation, the nature and purpose of language, how language mediates between inside and outside, how it de-coheres. Are we outside the unknown, ever trying to look in, or are we hopelessly trapped in language, playing with words? Is language a mirror or a window? Windows both block us and let us see - they're in 6 of these poems. Trees are twice as common, mentioned about 20 times - seen against the sun or sky, casting shadows (the book has many shadows), hosting life that perhaps we might only hear.

Other reviews

  • Ian Pindar (Eclectic, erudite, surreal, ludic, this is a wonderful first collection.)
  • Greg Emilio (Trop) (The poet is resigned to use his words, which he knows cannot express the thing itself, but are his only option - the flickering light he must use to illuminate meaning)
  • David Wheatley (Poetry London)
  • Ben Wilkinson (TLS)

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