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, 21 April 2013

"The only reason for time" by Fiona Moore (Happenstance, 2013)

Let's start with "Nothing"

The dark never changes, the dark stays dark,
the same things come out of it that always came:
  nothing + nothing is an answer

The final line's a refrain repeated 3 times, which might seem rather bleak. There's more where that comes from - "my usual despair, worn out by night after// long dark night of nothing " (p.16); "Looked at for as long// as I look at [the moon], LOVE will soon become/ meaningless. So/ I will formalise the losing of hope" (p.13).

Then there are hints of optimism, of turning nothing into something - "Change may come while nothing seems to change./ I know it will take a take while." (p.12). Accompanying "something/nothing" are other stark binaries - "0/1" , "light/dark", "life/death", "past/present". Mediating between these are numerous edges, borders and thresholds (beaches, gates, doors, New Year's Eve, midwinter's longest day, distal points, holes). Wormholes and horizons might unite disparate elements, albeit at infinity.

The pamphlet's title comes from an Einstein quote about time preventing all things happening at once. I've seen both time and space described as works of the devil, constructs that defy The Great Oneness. With String Theory reaching 11 dimensions it looks like the devil holds all the aces. How can one describe this multi-dimensional life using the flat, two-dimensional page? How can finite minds deal with infinity? Mathematicians try by collapsing dimensions, or projecting. In Quantum Mechanics, Renormalisation eliminates infinities that would otherwise make theoretical results invalid. Poets don't have such an easy time of it. Attempts to heal the separation caused by time are described in some poems here - attempts at recovering the past which, who knows, may be at the end of a wormhole or in a parallel universe just one space-time fold away.

I will get language where I can,
I will recover you from time that is not
linear, as it seemed ...
the Aran jersey of our first kiss, folded
to two dimensions, collapsing time
from its fourth: time, our sealant
in the parallel, never-to-meet,
where I live, you rot, and your jersey
holds me differently, loose, undyed.

Ending that poem on such a pun is risky. After the talk of death, the poem "Hunger" is daring too, beginning with the macabre "One way to dispose of a corpse is to eat it". It's time to absorb and savour the memories, I presume.

The jersey of that poem and the article in "The shirt" aren't the only memory-laden clothes mentioned in the collection, and removal of clothes features in "On Dunwich Beach", "To the Moon 2: Late February", etc. I suspect the act hints at unburdening or rebirth, at re-integration with the world rather than revelation of self. Poems are set in various places - Poland, Ireland, Sardinia - however, there are few journeys. Instead there are releases. In the following a strategy is suggested

    One night a mouse ran in the attic
until we trapped her under a cardboard box
  and left her on the quay in the dark, to act out
the mind that concentrates on one thing and
gnaws at it, eating its own page into lace

But the hole found at dawn was "facing deep/ water as the mouse would have - stopped/ on the edge of something immense". The quay/key isn't the solution - escape is only the start.

In "Eden" "all horizons were limitlessly flat". In real life they're limits of perception. They're also where you can't tell the difference between sea and sky, where immensities merge. Fog and mist can represent obscurity or confusion - in "Overwinter" "the ground-mist floats the trees/ whose outlines are all gesture,/ each miming the wait differently". By filtering out colour and detail fog can also make one focus on primary qualities - shape and existence. "Hard to think about infinity/ in a fog" starts a poem that ends "fog is/ the very substance of a ghost". In the final poem "To the reader", where "You are the fire around which your ghosts are talking", the ghosts are "wrapped in their own mist". We've moved away from a situation where nothing plus nothing is all there is to a condition where the self is central. The poem ends "From time to time one of them reaches for more// wood, and throws it on the fire. Your flames leap up". Mist and ghosts make the infinite manageable, bring the horizon closer, giving form to the absent, enriching life.

I wonder if during compilation thought was ever given to narrowing the collection's focus so that these insistent themes monopolise. Even as it is, there's a temptation to make all the poems jump on the bandwagon. But I think that there are detached, counterpointing pieces. "Eden" delights in nature. "Bullocks" describes a momentary scene with an accurate, light touch, and there's an ode to the plug-hole in a sink.

There are poems from Magma, Poetry London, The Rialto, etc., so there's no lack of quality. I expect the pamphlet to be well received. My favourites? Difficult to say. Especially in the context of the pamphlet the poems are consistently good. In isolation I like "Overwintering", "On Dunwich Beach", and "To the reader" - surprisingly not the poems that set the themes. At the launch, the author read 6 poems, apologising that the pamphlet contained 3 poems about the moon. They're all ok, but somehow I think the 3 could have been squeezed into 2. To end, a note on Form: the couplets in "Postcard" are often connected by rhyme or assonance; all the couplets in "On Dunwich Beach" end with "for you"; "Eden" is sometimes in terza rima; "Hunger" is a palindrome with stanza units.

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