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, 12 August 2013

"The Crumb Road" by Maitreyabandhu (Bloodaxe, 2013)

We've both been in The Interpreter's House, Iota, The North, Oxford Poetry, The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, Stand and Urthona (the last a Buddhist magazine). That's where resemblances end. He's appeared in Poetry Review, etc., and he's also winner of the Keats-Shelley Prize, the Basil Bunting Award, the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and the Ledbury Poetry Competition. His pamphlets have won the Poetry Business competition and the Iota Shots Award. He's been on the Jerwood/Arvon and Escalator mentoring schemes, which others have found useful too. So he's done his time and deserves to have a book published.

Here's the start and end of "Bottle Digging"

I wasn't as good at digging as my dad.
He could dig a hole, say, six-feet deep -
spading out one side then turning round
and spading out the other. He's use a fork
to ferret in the sides, then loosen up
the ground under his boots, careful not
to break whatever might be buried
Dad had to put the tools inside the boot
when I got back. We drove in silence home.
And after that he made it known to anyone
who listen that I'd been duped by a collector
who would even stoop to cheat a kid.
And I'm still ashamed of what I did

There's a rhyming couplet at the end. Here's the start and end of "The Marvellous Toy"

He opened the marvellous toy on the kitchen floor. It didn't need a plug. It might have been a fan belt or clothes pegs pegged together in a round. It hovered just above the linoleum, twitched slightly, then the lights came on. It spun.
Nothing could stop it. Even when his mother told him to turn it off, he could still hear it pulsating in its box.

The sentence-lengths vary more than in the first example, perhaps to compensate for the lack of line-breaks. Here's the start and end of "Homecoming"

If I had to think of a place,
       I'd think of those cold shallows
              where the dogs drank
and I threw a stick
     We were there together.
And it might have been
     at the top of the garden
near the hole-in-the-hedge,
          or it might have been anywhere between traffic noise,
in the Sunday silence of the high street.

I don't get the indents. Indeed, I think any of these poems could have had the layout of any other. Here's the start and end of "Shark Fishing", presented in a prose layout

We hired a boat and a Cornish fisherman, then stepped gingerly on board, my mother going first - the skipper reaching out as she stepped across the gap - my brothers (each a year or so apart), my sister small and smiling, and last of all my father enquiring about the weather or the tides
When we got back to the quay and my thankful mother climbed the jetty steps, my father paid the thirty pound we owed but wouldn't shake the skipper's hand.

So what layout should this be? Take your pick. In the book it's chopped ruthlessly into 5-line stanzas, the shortest line about 2cm shorter than the longest, with many interrupted clauses. Why? I read it like prose and appreciate it as prose.

It's prose. The earlier examples were less prosy ("Uchida from the Choir Stalls" for example juxtaposes 3 settings). Even so, the versatility of layout belies the uniformity of approach. Agreed, the content's more important than the layout, but why the tricksy, gimmicky layouts? Though they clearly matter to him, their purpose isn't communicated to me. Needless obscurity.

But if, despite the author's seeming intentions, one ignores the
    quirky layouts and the
fetish for rectangles, one can see that the pieces focus concisely on significant detail and threads of narrative, making the book more telling than many a short story, less encumbered by the requirements of continuity and completeness. Poems like "The Coat Cupboard" improve when viewed as one facet of a family portrait.

"Thought-path" and "The Theory of Touch" are less narrative-driven. I like "Shipwright". "Colloquim" has a rhyme-scheme. "Rangiatea" is 4.5 pages long - 28 5-lined, rectangular stanzas (why?) with rhetorical repetition unsupported by the layout - "rose ... it rose ... it rose". "Putting Away Pictures" depends on its (good) punchline. "Ornithology" begins and ends thus

In that other world, woodpigeons were considered rare and very beautiful
Painters had them flapping in a tree or wading through the grass, but poets were advised not to labour their troubled song with iridescence or the colour of a breast.

I'm still wondering about what that final sentence quite means - "no flashy poeticisms"? The poems on p.37, 38, 51, 52, and 56 seem minor - not flashy enough.

I'm unsure about the sequence that comprises section III. Doomed, secretive first love inspires a tone that can become tiresome after a poem or two, especially if there's a whiff of elegy. Poems overlap and imagery recurs. I prefer "The Mop" and "Caravan" to "The Name", "The Brook", "Trenches" and "Blazon". In "The Usual Things" it says "Hansel never grew up; the crumb road lost". I'm still wondering quite what that means too - without a route back to that first love, the romanticised element was suspended in adolescence, development arrested?

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