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.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

"Astonishment" by Anne Stevenson (Bloodaxe, 2012)

In the acknowledgements she writes "Three poems in this collection ... appeared (too soon) in my Bloodaxe collection, Poems 1955-2005. They have all been revised", a sentiment I admire.

"Constable clouds and a Kestrel's Feather" ends "proof that, undeterred by our millennium,/ nature's nature is to work in form", and on the back cover it says "the sound and shape of every poem is integral to its meaning" and "Stevenson views contemporary scientific and technological advance with a sceptic's compassion for its ecological and human cost", so we know where she's coming from.

"Paper" is a poem where the narrator repeats some arguments in defence of the printed word - "the beauty of it,/ the simple, strokeable in-the-handness of it", how "the typesetter ... escapes from the glaze of his computer/ to explore with a fingertip/ an elegant topography/ reserved exclusively for types he likes/ and faces that delight him". The other side of the argument is - "Why, say the silicon people,/ keep house in a paper graveyard?/ The future is digital, clean, indestructible,/ the great web's face book and bird's nest./ No fingerprint can be lost,/ no fact of identity missed./ All's for the best/ in the best of all paperless worlds". But the persona's not convinced - "I can't love these fidgety digits!/ I want to go home,/ I want to keep warm in my burrow/ of piled up paper ... story I'll keep turning the pages of/ until it ends.". Wise or reactionary? A portrait of self-effacing, self-mocking, knowingly out-of-touch persona, or is there something cutting about the use of "silicon people" and "glaze of his computer"? Perhaps the sound and shape makes this into witty wisdom.

In "On Line" the narrator's on a train, opening a book. There's "a teenaged nymph hunched over an iPad; in minimal clothes,/ she was scrolling for fantasy shoes. Facing me,/ two smart young male laptops were open for business,/ closed, of course, to the window and to England/ passing outside".

Section II has sonnets. I liked "Doppler". "Elegy: In Coherent Light" interested me. Sparrows that said Teach-cheap, teach-cheap are in ivy, "Chipping the seconds spark by spark out of the hours./ Each whistling chip repeats the sun's holography". Notes at the back of the book point out that each bit of a hologram contains something of the whole. The persona continues "My brain's a film, I'm made of timed exposures ... Invisible flakes make pictures I call sight ... no one can keep/ Coherent track of you". The notes provide a scientific definition of 'coherent'. The poem's scientific imagery is capped by a heavenless end.

Faith in eternal love is love's indulgence.
I prize what you wrote, meet you in what I write,
Still keep house in our crumbling tenement of words.
Pull down their walls of ivy, and you kill the birds.

I couldn't work out "How it is" or "Goat Cull in Cwn Nancol". "All Those Attempts in the Changing Room" was different from the other poems. The Password" included

First love of music bred a love of art,
Then art a love of actors and their plays,
Then actors love of acting out a part,
Until she'd try on anything for praise.

which I liked. People whose taste I respect and admire say they like her, but much of the time with this book I'm lost.

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