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, 8 June 2013

"The World's Two Smallest Humans" by Julia Copus (Faber and Faber, 2012)

She's been in all the right magazines and anthologies (including "Identity Parade"). Flicking through, one might easily believe that she frequently writes ragged-right prose. Looking more closely, I think that the line-breaks don't often matter much. Even the organisation is rather prosey - the poem's trajectories can be summarised, and the stanzas subtitled. The titles are helpfully descriptive too - e.g. "The Orange Rug", "This Is the Poem in which I Have Not Left You", etc. The pieces are more often meditations and reminiscences than stories, but prose appreciation certainly helps when reading these restrained pieces. Take for example the end of "An Easy Passage" which won the Forward best-poem prize in 2010 - "a girl - thirteen if she's a day - standing/ in next to nothing in the driveway opposite,/ one hand flat against her stomach, one/ shielding her eyes to gaze up at a pale calf,/ a silver anklet and the five neat shimmering-/ oyster-painted toenails of an outstretched foot/ which catch the sunlight briefly like the/ flash of armaments before/ dropping gracefully into the shade of the house."

"Dig" begins "On the final day we came at length to a layer/ of packed earth. I made short shrift of it, in slices,/ lifting it off with a leaf trowel to expose/ a broad, flat stone". In similarly prosaic fashion we're told how they make a little peep-hole into a stucco'd hollow. The payoff comes at the end, when they take turns to apply their eye "in the deep/ cave of ourselves, as we looked we were lit,/ utterly and for good, like a lover looking/ into the eyes of one he will love,/ whose hand, reaching perhaps to shoo away a fly,/ brushes against her hand and is made precious". I wonder how much of this would need to be changed for it to have raised no eyebrows of readers expecting prose? A clause or two, I'd guess. People like Michèle Roberts might even leave the words unchanged. It would be an interesting exercise in a "What is Poetry?" experiment.

Sometimes line-breaks are used more actively. In "Stars Moving Westwards in the Winter Garden" (commissioned) she uses 3-line stanzas, stanza 2 breaking within a word - so that the line is 8-syllabled? For 3 stanzas it might appear so, but that pattern later disappears, so I don't understand the layout. "Miss Jenkins" and "Raymond, at 60" are line-unit palindrome - not the first she's done, nor the most successful.

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