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, 14 December 2012

"Burying the Wren" by Deryn Rees-Jones (Seren, 2012)

Only 28 pages of poetry when the empty pages and lines are removed, but it's good stuff. I hadn't heard about the Wren custom. According to a "Countryfile" magazine that we have in the house, the Celts associated it with the underworld and winter. The sacrifice of a wren encouraged the return of spring. Unsurprisingly then, there's much about life and death in this book - more death than life, though section II is more forward-looking.

The collection starts well with "Three Glances at a Field of Poppies" - three 3-lined sections. An early poem, "A Dream of Constellations", brings several themes and techniques together. The boxy stanzas have 8, 8, 8 and 7 lines. It has some standard, perhaps unavoidable, poeticisms ("a night that was suddenly known, but not as itself", "like a dream about to be spoken, silence buried itself in me", "this telling and untelling of the world", "Time sped and slowed"). Stanza 2 begins with "the navigated darkness of our life". Constellations (re-interpreted for our time) provide the means - "together we wept for Berenice/ with her one breast, with her shorn-off hair".

In the final stanza, the narrator says "I'd like to think the story of what lived between us then/ expanded in the moment of our looking:/ charting new maps in the darkness, allowing us to trust/ that we might live by the light of the stars and their/ reseedings ... which/ hovered in the dashes and the dots". The plot is spelt out for us in prose. The finishing phrase refers to the drawings of constellations - the dots of the stars forming a dot-to-dot - but I presume there's also an allusion to Morse code, a message to be interpreted.

I liked "Dogwoman" - it's over 5 pages long - "Now dog's the divine ... Now dog sleeps ... Flea-bitten, dog-eared ... Alert in the darkness ... Dogs in a waterfall, dogs at the beach". I like "Trilobite" too. It begins with an image of someone shouting "Catch" and you reacting before knowing what's been thrown. In this poem the memories of a dead one strike the narrator that way, embodied as a trilobyte - "its hard parts being its only parts ... the feathery stone of its cool guitar". Note already that she can do one-line comparisons, sentence-long comparisons, and extended, leitmotif-driven passages.

I like "Ellipsis" too. "Truffles" and Tom-Tom" aren't as good - too literal. "Meteor" is too much like other meteor poems (though it contains "Clothes held our bodies as a mouth might a kiss").

"Shrub & Willow" is one of several poems in loose terza rima - "certainty/ breeze/ wire// sadness/ feet/ glass// house/ despair/ air// pair/ Shrub/ there". Somewhat like "Dogwoman" it has spliced lists of images. It begins with "Shrub's heart was a box, a certainty.// While Willow played, let out hair to the rheumy breeze/ Shrub was inviolable, a taut high wire". Later, "Shrub was a sentry on the steps of the house./ Shrub was anger. Shrub was despair./ Perhaps Willow was love, an hysterical air"

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