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.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

"Drysalter" by Michael Symmons Roberts (Cape Poetry, 2013)

A "drysalter" is, we're told, a "dealer in drugs, dye-stuffs, gums, oils, etc". The book contains 150 poems (because there are 150 psalms I suppose) each of 15 lines - sonnet-length, though layouts vary. Lines and stanzas within a poem are usually the same length. Some poems (e.g. p.74, p.76, p.80) are terza rima. p.139 is a Shakespearean poem with an extra line.

The first poem is "World into Fragments". The last is "Fragments into World". Between, there are hymns (to "a Photo Booth", "the Drivers", "November", "a Tolbooth", "the Faces", "a Roller Coaster", "a Ghost Train," "a Car Factory", "the Fakschfahrer", and "a Karaoke Booth"), 5 poems about "The Wounds", 6 "Portrait[s] of the Psalmist", etc.

It's a long book so I started sampling, picking poems because of their titles. "String Theory" is nothing to do with physics. "The Mirror Test" is however a reference to the psychology test for self-consciousness. If you secretly put a mark on a creature's face and get it to look in a mirror, will it try to rub the mark away? The narrator waits his/her turn behind bonobos, magpies, etc. Faced with the marked reflection, the narrator stares, expects it to talk back, but at the end the experimenters " fail me, send me back into the jungle".

"Hymn to the Drivers" begins "Every second a child is born, a car is made; / knitted together in factory towns/ by robot arms with sparks at their fingertips". The cars wait, and the children wait until "Deliverance comes/ as a set of keys and a card in your name". Even at night we should think of cars "as coiled, not cataleptic,// and the road as open, wet with lime leaves."

Imagery abounds. "Praise song for a blizzard" begins "We give thanks for these vanilla swarms/ of fat bees, broken from the future/ back to us. Not simply mute, they push/ their silence into every corner". In "Smoke", "Headlamps fade to dandelion clocks".

Maybe I was lucky in my selections, but the poems I first looked at didn't follow the obvious paths, and all had something to interest me, except for "Face to Face".

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