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, 23 October 2013

"Coleshill" by Fiona Sampson (Chatto and Windus, 2013)

Dreams, ghosts, dusty rooms, light, fields (and paths through them), but most of all, a preoccupation with questions of existence. The poems may well be excellent, but I can't relate to them intensely. I have particular problems with short poems like "An Oxfordshire Annunciation" - a heavy title for a poem that depends on its punch-line which nevertheless doesn't deliver. Ditto "Little Songs ...". "Dave and his holy mountain" puzzles me too.

Poems about existence can initially sound self-indulgent.

Fields, pale sky, ragwort crowding
a summer verge: these
have no value,
so what are they for? (p.41)


Sometimes at dusk
I have this sense
of really existing

but the latter at least develops, the narrator identifying with a brown deer running across brown fields, ending with

To watch myself
is to slide across myself,
like pushing past a stranger.

which I like. The next poem's ending continues the mood - "all you need's this play of surface -/ all that you need. All you have". The poem on p.63 (the final poem) ends "If you're not dead you're doing alright". The village of Coleshill's multi-sensory, multi-era stimuli combined with the odd individual provide solace, mostly.

Some nights, my body wakes
to itself

a forest of cries and small deaths
as bruised tissues

punish each other
in the intimate dark (p.45)

But at least it's a good time for bees - 5 bee poems are here, adding to those in books by Sean Borrowdale, Carol Ann Duffy, etc.

Other reviews

  • Kittie Belltree (New Welsh Review) (While Sampson’s technical virtuosity is unquestionable, the very power and intensity of her voice through the collection can feel oppressive and absolute)
  • Sean O'Brien (Guardian) (the central mode of Coleshill is lyric ... Sampson's fourth collection reads the place not only for the welcome seclusion of its fields and hedgerows but for its menace, and for a larger environmental unravelling ... Along with lyric goes intimacy, a solitary intimacy with the self, in the body and in the dreamscapes between sleep and waking ... It is bracing, at a time when sentimentality is often allowed to infect serious matters, to read such a determined affirmation of possibility, and such a refusal to shrivel under the weight of malevolence and spite, or to be confined by them.)
  • Gareth Prior (These are profoundly liminal poems, obsessed by the boundaries between spaces and states of being. Over half the poems in the book are either explicitly set at night / twilight or else feature dreams or ghosts. Many of the remainder emphasize haze, blurring, shifting and floating. Reality often seems at risk of dissolving or being subsumed by internal forces. ... a rare and beautiful book)

No comments:

Post a Comment