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.

Saturday 16 March 2013

"The Forward book of poetry, 2013" by Forward Ltd (Forward Ltd, 2012)

170 collections were sent in. I don't know how many magazines they looked at. Publishers whose work was selected more than once were TLS (2), Cinnamon Press (2), Jonathan Cape (3), Carcanet (5), Salt Publishing (2), Faber and Faber (4), Picador (5), Bloodaxe (7), Shearsman Books (4), Poetry Review (2) and The North (2).

I think strangers to UK poetry will find a representative selection here. There's a fair amount of end-rhyme - Jennifer Clarvoe's page-long poem comprises pairs of lines with the same word at the end, mostly. Glyn Maxwell's poem's the longest - 6.5 pages.

I read the poems rather quickly, immediately liking Beverley Bie Brahic's poems. Jorie Graham's work as usual left me cold. I don't get "Landmarks & boundaries", "Letter to Husband", "Moon", "This is the poem in which I have not left you" or "When six o'clock comes and another day has passed" - they seem too minor to me. Why isn't "Joy" formatted like prose? Ditto "Mermaids", though I enjoyed both. I liked "Barn burning, Fall river, Wisconsin, july 1966", "Ponting" and "Yesterday". I don't get "Sutton Hoo". "A night in at Nohant" looks too easy to do.

I liked snippets of Selima Hill's poems - e.g. "like wardrobes full of sleeping bags, the elephant/ has gone to sleep without lying down". Mimi Khalvati's "The Swarm" flirts with poetry about poetry. It begins "Snow was literally swarming round the streetlamp", then has "riding on their own melting as poems do" (Frost) and ends with "I could have watched for hours and seen nothing more than I do now,/ an image, metaphor, but not the blind imperative that drove them."

This is part xv of Denise Riley's "A Part Song" - I'm not at all sure about its tone or technique. Maybe it's fine.

The flaws in suicide are clear
Apart from causing bother
To those alive who hold us dear
We could miss one another
We might be trapped eternally
Oblivious to each other
One crying Where are you, my child
The other calling Mother.

It won the best poem prize. In Denise Riley and the force of bereavement, Peter Riley (no relation) says that she's written a companion essay. In the poetry "there are wild monologues, invocations, one-sided dialogues, imaginings and imagings, and there are songs. In poems of four to fourteen lines, some of them sonnet-like, the poet rails against the death imposed upon her, addresses the dead son, remembers, forgets, contemplates suicide, demands that he return home. All this is focused on the one condition of loss but in a range of poetical voices rich in self-detachment, irony and mock elegy, including subsumed quotations from well-known texts (‘She do the bereaved in different voices’) as easily as from sentimental bereavement poems unknown to all but the bereaved.". Much of it's not difficult to read.

He continues: "The poetical line normally has a classical feel to it, which will occasionally break out into pentameters, and in one sardonic poem rhyming octosyllabic couplets, just as there is a delving into the literary past for images of after-life and survival which are not believed-in but, as it were, entertained provisionally from within this cocoon of suspended time which also suspends modernity"

It's long, understandable, and end-rhymed. As Peter Riley goes on to say, "There is no mysticism here, and neither is there any messing around with the pseudo-sciences of ‘poetics’, neither antiquarianism nor psychologising." So why does she write like this only now? Part of the answer is that she sometimes does write more directly, but death of a near one does tend to normalize a poet's output.

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