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.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

"Flying into the bear" by Chrissy Williams (HappenStance, 2013)

Poems from The Rialto and several anthologies ("Adventures in Form", "Best British Poetry 2011", etc). I wasn't keen on this poet's poems in the "Adventures in Form" anthology (e.g. "The Lost"), partly they used elements that were beyond my aesthetic horizon, and partly because the forms didn't seem sufficiently adventurous or constraining (I've an old-fashioned belief that forms should present a challenge). I'm not entirely convinced by all the poems in this pamphlet either, but when the effects that are used more regularly in the forms are combined more freely, the result's striking.

I'll focus on the Bear poems - after all, the pamphlet's frontispiece says "for you/ who also live and die/ by the bear". The pamphlet's first poem is "The Bear of the artist" where the narrator "asked the artist to draw me a heart and instead he drew me a bear", the artist claiming that actually it's not a heart or a bear, that "as long as you keep me existing to put bears in your head" he'll carry on, though "there's nothing worse than a bear in the face, when it breaks/ - always - remember how your bear breaks down/ against the shore, the shore, the shore". Hearts break too. Pun on "sure"? Maybe.

In "Bears of the Light Brigade" the bears are sometimes soldiers, sometimes more - "Those who live/ bearhug to bearhug will die/ by the bear, understanding/ only dimly what they've lost". Perhaps the bear needs to be understood non-physically too, as in the earlier poem. At the end "Bears gather to watch the death/ of Tommy Cooper and swear:/ we will look for the stage, we/ will listen for the final laugh." The world's a stage? Who has the last laugh? Who blindly takes order? Who will transcend our bearness?

"The Invisible Bear" has six stanzas. If I've followed it appropriately, it has quite a conventional plot, but also some aspects that puzzle me. As the ancients did when looking up at the night sky, I'll invent a story to join up the dots

  • Stanza 1: It begins "We went into the dome in daylight". It's a planetarium (originally at Greenwich, said the poet at the launch). No hands, no faces, just stars - "we could have tried, one day, to touch them". The starts are numerous, distant, but only "cold rocks and inert gases". I can imagine a couple evaluating their relationship. Or maybe "we" is humanity in general. In this stanza the words "in plain sight" and "long" seem surplus to me, making me think I've missed something.
  • Stanza 2: "We fly into the stars ... Goodbye to ... all our wrong and stupid choices". Distance brings objectivity.
  • Stanza 3: "Now we're flying into and through the bear ... But this bear is invisible. ... All I can do is tell you that your bear is here". A constellation isn't a bundle of stars localised in space. The stars may be further from each other than we are to them. So you can't voyage through "Ursa Major" - it's a chance alignment. But the pamphlet's first poem introduces "The Bear of the Artist", which is no ordinary bear. Nor is it a heart. There's more repetition in this stanza than I'm used to. What's it for?
  • Stanza 4: You have to make do with a see-through bear. Looking back, "Our planet, back with a fox, is so small". "back with a fox"? In what sense? Maybe in the planetarium show they project a countryside scene at this point?
  • Stanza 5: "This space ... between us is all there is" - forget the astronomical distances.
  • Stanza 6: "Go back, go back. ... One step at a time is how we have to go. ... But stop. Bear. Be dazzled by the daylight.". Perhaps "Bear" is an imperative here.

Chance alignments are all we've got, but they're also all there is, so let yourself be dazzled.

Reading the pamphlet was a learning process for me. Fortunately there's a page of tightly packed notes. A URL there leads to a video showing a seasonal lake when she mentioned at the launch. I liked the poem it related to and several others (there are poems inspired by computer games, scarves, "The Terminator", Dante, etc), though neither "The Lost" nor "Four hours away" worked for me.

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