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, 31 October 2013

"Spindrift" by Vona Groarke (Gallery Books, 2009)

I didn't get the first poem, "Some Weather", but gradually acclimatized myself to the flexibility along the formalist/free and personal/impersonal dimensions.

"An American Jay" is 64 lines of terza rima. It's easy-going in places

which is round about the point where I switch, finally,
to an Anglophile mid-morning with the Kumars

or All Creatures Great and Small or The Royle Family
or any other one of a hundred ways to fritter
a tea-break or two on what's billed, not funnily

enough, as Classic Hour

but I guess that style matches the depicted mood. The narrator's abroad, teaching, whiling hours away. Later

My students smirk. I'm square. Fixed in the headlights
of form and tradition, I tell them, 'Next it's an ode',
The news is welcomed like a bad dose of head lice.

I remind Sally about the sonnet I'm still owed.
She smiles, says she'll get to it after her midterm on Hamlet.
I'm not sure if she thinks I'm quaint or just plain odd.

"Horses" has 3-line stanzas too, but no metre or end-rhyme. It has the type of convenient connections that bug me. Initially "The drier gives the first two notes/ of 'In the Bleak Midwinter'". A clothes horse in a bath is like a newborn foal thinking of jumping the backyard fence, which reminds the persona of a man who whistled "an ascending scale" and bred horses, "swaddled them in cast-off woollens", and had "breath/ that flocked above them/ like damp flannel, streaming silks".

She likes connecting things. Both "Sleepless" and "By and By" have 3 stanzas, each stanza saying something is "like" something else. Sometimes she struggles to find a replacement for "like" ("puts me in mind of", etc) or uses stanza-level juxtaposition. Sometimes she puts a "*" between stanzas. "Six Months" has titled stanzas. The title poem is 45 numbered stanzas - e.g. "24/ The waves break a cleaner white/ than the Planning Application/ fixed to the gatepost"; "36/ The island lighthouse/ clenches the bay/ and then sets it free". The less spindrifty her poems are, the more I like them.

"Bodkin" is something else again; a wordfest

A word from a dream, or several, spiked on it
like old receipts. Something akin to a clavicle's
bold airs; a measurement of antique land;
a keepsake brooch on a quilted silk bodice;
a firkin, filled to the brink with mead or milk

I like much of the imagery - "Tonight the wind tries on fancy dress/ in the attic rooms of trees// crinolines and winkle-pickers" ("Wind in Trees"); "The rain makes the world creak, unfold/ like a ball of cellophane" ("Rain Songs")

There are statements attesting to the power of love -

  • "his name/ is a coin flipped/ in a clearing/ at the dead centre/ of wherever I am" (p.44)
  • "What will I do/ when I am too old/ for such love songs?" (p.49)
  • "A robin, cocksure of himself,/ frittered away all morning in the shrub.// If I knew how to fix in even one language/ the noise of his wings in flight// I wouldn't need another word." (p.50)
  • "Am I nothing without love?" (p.58)
  • "It is all a kind/ of love song, really,/ and I am only/ listening to it,/ trying to follow/ the words." (p.73)

She often uses "coining" and "metaphor", sometimes assessing [the point of] metaphors as she writes. In "Purism" "The wind orchestrates/ its theme of loneliness/ and the rain/ has too much glitter in it, yes.// They are like words, the wrong ones, insisting I listen to sense". "The Sunroom" begins

In the hotel lobby of a Sunday afternoon I dicker
with elsewhere. The children are going storm-wild
upstairs with two new kids from up the road.
The wine kicks in


The sunroom is the porch of a Retirement Home.


The sunroom is a crystal cruise ship

In the final stanza

I'm through, I think, with metaphor. The sunroom
floats nowhere; there is no other version of this

Other reviews

  • W.N. Herbert (There is an alertness here that refuses to leave any phrase unexamined ... The outside being in and the inside being out is not only a recurrent theme, it is a way of presenting the intimacy of this voice )
  • Carol Rumen's poem of the week (Guardian)
  • georgiasam

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