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.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

"The turn of the cucumber" by Ann Drysdale (Peterloo, 1995)

On the back cover the small print mentions

  • "mastery of the traditional crafts of poetry alongside innovative departures". I didn't see much that's innovative, though much is entertaining and well-written.
  • "[she] is already well-known for her thoughtful and humorous prose" - This kind of book rather exposes my irrational prejudices. I tend to think that if something can be expressed in prose rather than poetry, then it should be. I think the fine ideas underlying some of the poems (e.g. "The Turn of the Cucumber", "Tin Wheels") might have been better expressed in prose.
  • "For sophisticated readers who feel that contemporary poetry is boring and obscure, Ann Drysdale is a refreshingly amusing and accessible poet" - I'm sometimes one of those readers yet the "Poet's Corner" section in this book sent me rushing to the WWW trying to trace the literary allusions. Elsewhere I wonder if she's sacrificed too much to be amusing and accessible. Rather than "making it look easy" the poems sometimes seem to be coasting, making do, compromising.

What can poetry add to an idea expressed in prose? If writers want to dig deeper they can widen the hole or construct mine-shafts but how do they develop an idea using neither the space afforded by prose nor the more literary burrowing devices of poetry? Several of the long poems, even those I liked (e.g. "Stolen from Big Phyllida") seemed too long ("River Girl II" and "1. Christening" outstayed their welcome too) and when the poetic influence is explicit, I'm not sure it works - "To the Plasters, to Make Much of Time" parodies Robert Herrick, but is that justification enough? Do the later stanzas earn their keep?

I like "Anita's Visit" but I don't see how "Of Courses" made the cut. In "3. She writes her 'toad' poem" she moves into a different gear, which makes some of the other poems look like missed opportunities.

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