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.

Monday, 1 April 2013

"The Havocs" by Jacob Polley (Picador, 2012)

I like Polley when he's being metaphorically lyrical. When he's writing long pieces, or is being modern/clever, or writing about the moon, I'm less convinced. I like "Doll's House". It has 4 6-lined stanzas, iambic, with irregular but frequent end-rhymes.

diminishment has simplified
the aims and objects of desire,
while blinder faith must still provide
the mincemeat in the wooden cakes,

the creaking stair and wind outside.
For you have held your breath to peer
along the shelves of depthless books


What happens if you turn away?
Every god has asked the same

"Hide and Seek" had no stanza-breaks. Like "Doll's House" it doesn't quite stick to the form. It has an abab rhyme scheme for 20 lines, an odd-man-out line ("I wasn't under my parents' bed"), then 24 more lines of abab

I like "Gloves" and the 4-line "Marsh". "Langley Lane" is a 64-line ballad in 2 voices - seems rather long to me. In "Keepers", "the river seemed to clarify/ and wobbled like a light-filled jelly as we walked;/ and those six squat humdrum boxes stood". Later "we watched a moon couple move/ from box to box, raising the combs like golden books/ while the smoke-enfeebled fighters droned". Ah - bee-keepers, who "could have been us, attending at last to something/ of substance, with a taste and use, obvious to anyone./ But we were who we were and turned from the hexagons/ of fence wire we'd been peering through.". Maybe the river's being compared to honey or royal jelly. Later the fence (I bet it wasn't really hexagonal) is like honeycomb. But that's as close as the couple get to the eloquence-conferring bees on their walk to the city.

Over half of the 45 poems use end-rhyme. Of those, about 7 are sonnets. There are other forms too, based on anglo-saxon patterns and word repetition. The sentences of "Hide and Seek" mostly begin with "I wasn't". The 9 lines of "An Empty House" repeat the same words, not always in a different order (I prefer Wendy Cope's "The Uncertainty of the Poet"). "The Havocs" (3-pages or so) uses the word "havoc" on every (perhaps continued) line. "Virus" mentions "heinous" 8 times, "vulpine" 5 times and "caress" 6 times in its c.40 lines. "It Will Snow Before Long" has 5 5-lined stanzas where the 2nd and 4th lines end on the same word (and the 3rd and 5th lines rhyme). The 5 stanzas of "The Weasel" each end with "White winter flowers".

After the final poem that's mentioned on the table of contents there are 3 blank pages then a poem ("Outer Banks, N.C.") on an unnumbered page. Strange.

Other reviews

  • Ben Wilkinson (The Guardian) - The Havocs may be an uneven collection that sometimes finds Polley treading water, but a handful of its poems are so moving and memorable you might just forgive him
  • Mariam Gamble (Tower Poetry) - Polley is a doyen of forms ... Polley has always been a loving delineator of childhood ... the range and ambition of the collection is to be applauded, and many of the poems are superb
  • David Birkett - a wonderfully inventive, beautiful, and intelligent collection
  • Dave - some genuinely cracking little poems and an uncommon skill with the whole rhetorical/rhythmical craft thing and a capacity for evoking a Frost/Hughes-type dark-and-deeply wintery pastoral without invoking those poets’ nihilism/overweening lust-for-dominance respectively; it also clunks on occasion and has a bad habit of enjoying its own vocabulary at the expense of the lyric exploration.
  • Lee Redman (Dundee University Review of the Arts) - The poet’s fusion of styles and the diversity of his inspirations allow the collection to remain refreshing until the end

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