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, 22 February 2013

"Angels and Harvesters" by James Harpur (Anvil, 2012)

This is his fifth poetry book. It includes poems from Agenda, The Guardian, Poetry Ireland Review, etc., but I had trouble with it. The following is in loosely rhymed couplets - well-observed, but I'm more used to this content in prose rather than in a two-page poem

Outside, the sun is beating off the clouds.
Map raised, I guide myself from Englishtown
To Irishtown and cross the road to avoid
A bunch of ambling bristle-headed lads.
A tea-time drunk, his face as red as tongue,
Sways into me then stumbles on.
I feel embarrassed that others saw me flinch
And walk off mustering all my nonchalance,
Enter a café, mostly for a toilet,
Where everyone looks styled and confident,
Youths who cup the world in cappuccinos
And gaze beatifically at phones. (p.18-19)

But when the lines are as short as those of the title poem (3-6 syllables), the white space gets in the way - "Their outlines sometimes/ Flickering brighter,/ They walked between/ The bending figures/ Curious/ Pausing to watch,/ Like ancestors/ Almost remembering/ The world they'd left". I like "Deserted" (a sonnet) but the poem after than ("The Pram Pusher's Tale") doesn't merit 5 pages. I don't get the point of "The Falcon Carol" or "Visiting Julian of Norwich". "Sinner" is 2 pages of terza rima but even here the discipline is only skin-deep. "Dark Night of the Soul" begins "What are [sic] the use of senses/ that only magnify/ The details of a cell", the answer being supplied later - "And in the emptiness/ The desolation of nothing/ The blindness of a box of night/ My soul surges, escapes/ The prison in the prison/ Soars up and over new worlds/ An eagle/ Afloat on the breath of life/ Like god above creation" - aka All Things Bright And Beautiful. I suspect I've missed many allusions (I had to look up the book's title) and descriptions of belief or revelations don't work well on me. I prefer Larkin.

Other reviews

  • M.C. Casey (Stride) - The challenge facing Harpur is to retain the otherworldliness of the earlier voices from his previous volumes and develop further the newly-personal tang of some of these poems
  • Philip Coleman (Southwold) - at times it appears that his poetry is in fact directed towards a declaration of faith rather than an interrogation of it ... even the most plangent of his poems seem to lapse too readily into affects that are cumbersome and overwrought ... As an expression of spiritual longing and a description of the poet’s relation of his readings in the history of Christianity to his everyday experience, Angels and Harvesters is an interesting and valuable collection

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