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.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

"Dress of Shadows" by Emma Danes (Smith/Doorstep, 2013)

Emma Danes has been "one to watch" for a while. She was second in the Purple Moose 2012 competition, just missing out on pamphlet publication. Now she's a winner in the Poetry Business competition. The result is 20 poems, an average of 12 lines/poem. Jobs and parenthood feature as topics, with landscape an influence. "Living Wheel" (about a Zoetroupe - also known as the "Wheel of Life", apparently) the narrator, who might be talking about a daughter, ends with

how what I see is both
unreal and true - how without those flashes
of darkness I would not see her at all.

which may more generally be true. Shadows, water, night and stars are common symbols. She often uses short, punchy sentences - not the brashness of Duffy, more the metaphor precision of poets like Polley or Robin Robertson.

Waiting is an ocean at night. I find him
in its depths, as below an x-ray moon:
gutted, truthful, all the bones turned silver. ("A&E")

The voice (which can be 1st (singular/plural), 2nd, or 3rd) is consistent throughout, though the poems' shapes differ - "Living Wheel" and "Letting go" are whole-poem metaphors; "17" (which appeared in "Best British Poetry 2011") spans years, the title referring to a house which seems to have a psyche. Objects are rarely lifeless in these poems. They don't always provoke metaphors - the poems don't present an observation/anecdote from which they develop metaphors then draw conclusions. Nor does the poet always seem on the look-out for objective correlatives. Usually those 2 processes ("object -> symbol" and "symbol -> object") seem fused. Even recognisable events (as in "A&E") are cooked, leading to speculations and changes in the narrator who's never just a camera. The final stanza of the poems often contains springboard symbolism rather than a thoughtful moral, or it reports a change of status - movement to stillness/waiting for example.

In "Magi" "Wintering swans shake out their heavy robes", find "this small epiphany of water". At the end

Below the wooden hide they bow their heads.
They drink. Their ripples nudge the doubting ice.
We watch for the white feathers of a thaw.

Given the title, I presume this final stanza extends the conceit - the magi bow to the object of veneration. Their presence confirms the event's importance. The "white feathers" (of the ice melting around the edges) emphasise the submission.

In that example the poem hits the ground running, though the reader soon understands the title. In "For one hour", the first line's a continuation of the title. In contrast, the first line of the poem below, "Physio", is juxtaposed against the title -

A painless breeze
and the first leaves foxtrot
in the arms of trees
with no thought beyond green

That final line of the stanza takes another leap. In the poem below the first line again makes the reader work.

Girl Waiting
She sits upright in the poised tent
of her bones, her name unspoken.

And here's another quick-starter, where a sentence that could have been a concluding line is used to start the poem.

Night Drive on the Ouse Washes
They weren't to know. I've taken years
to track a safe path through my head

those tricks like tussocks and scrub
that skirt unreliable thoughts.

Forms: "Physio" has end-rhyme - lines 1 and 3 in stanza 1, and lines 2 and 3 in the remaining stanzas. It's the only poem where I noticed significant patterning.

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