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.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

"Quaintness and other offences" by Ann Drysdale (Cinnamon Press, 2009)

I like the first poem. It begins "Sun on the snow. We are the first up, first out/ To lay our claim to the unprinted page". The twist here is that children on improvised sleighs are removing all the evidence. The poem ends well with "A universalising metaphor .../ Don't even think about it. Home. Soup. Crossword". "Thirteen Syllables of Safety" starts from another decent idea, but the imposed discipline of couplets doesn't result in any benefits; the poem doesn't develop, nor does it engage with language. I like the plot of the sonnet "Cat in the Garden" - a cat buries its turds as if knowing they'll nurture a wood where he'll find further prey. The wood will also "make a dark Valhalla for his soul/ When time takes its inevitable toll/ And all nine linnet-lunching lives are done", though that ending's rather padded. 3 rather padded but pleasant sonnets follow. Then p.15 is too slight to be publishable. p.16 is better. p.18 is good. p.19 is too light. p.20 doesn't reach the tipping point of publishability. p.21 is in rhyming couplets until the end

Lying awake beside you in the night
I rose and went downstairs and put it right.
I undid my deletion, and instead
Added another kiss. Lower case. Orange.

- a neat ending because we expected "red", but the poem's too long. p.22 is far too long. It uses an abab rhyme scheme, ending with (but not resuscitated by)

Decided to apply the skills God gave me
To doing something that I do quite well;
Made an asbestos jacket for a snowball
So as to give it half a chance in hell

p.23 doesn't have enough in it. p.26 is padded. p.28, p.29 and p.30 shouldn't be there. Here's the start of "Accident Watchers" on p.31 - "I am waiting alone for the X15/ At the bus stop on the old road through town/ While on the bypass, thirty yards away/ Behind a low brick wall, an accident/ Has happened. The police are there./ And the fire service. And the accident watchers,/ Leaning on their elbows along the wall." - too long and prosy a set-up. In "The Bingo Bus" there's some observation of the type that's rather lacking elsewhere - "They all chew gum. In their youth it was thought unseemly/ So they chew very fast to make up for so much lost time,/ Redeploying the involuntary motions of old mouths".

And yet ... I like "Old Boats", which uses a boat=person analogy. Derelict boats feature similarly in two other poems I like - "To Camelot" and "Port of Call". I also like "Changeling", "How the Emperor Shun paid for his Cucumber", "Jo-Jo's Mother", "Cliché" and "The Last Lamp". "Return of the Native" and "Beavers" are both quite challenging for me. Were it a pamphlet I think I might have been praising its range and imagination.

On the back cover it says "her work speaks to a wide audience", that her voice is "direct, authentic". Her poetry deals with heavy subjects and uses explicit language. Those features suffice to deflect any suggestion that this is light poetry. But for me there is too much dilution, too few "ouch" moments of the type that the early Wendy Cope could generate, too few killer phrases. Forms seem to encourage padding rather than concision. There are enough ideas for a book (and enough good poems) but insufficient use of the red pen. Many poems are a stanza or so too long, and the book's at least a third too long. Poetry books can have 40 pages nowadays. This has over 70 pages, including 2 pages of entertaining notes.

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