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.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

"The Casual Perfect" by Lavinia Greenlaw (Faber and Faber, 2011)

On the French flap it says this collection "tests the proximities of elsewhere" (which sounds pretentious) and "invites our presence as readers" (which , if I understand it, I don't agree with). The poetry (46 pages) seems more oblique than in her other books. I find some lines (sometimes whole poems) puzzling.

"Empty Metaphor" is relatively straightforward. A child passing mirrors was "about to be described/ and yet to meet her explanation ... she became so unknown, so clear// that I could not tell glass from air. In "English Lullaby" (which has an xaxa rhyme scheme) the stage props re-appear - "Each glance in the mirror/ opens a window". I like that image, and others - e.g. "That in sleep her body braces itself/ as if high in a chimney or well" (p.11) and "He put idea into words as if addressing an envelope" (p.32).

I'm puzzled by some poems - e.g. "Slow", "Lo-Fi", "Spill", and "The Lost Letter". I've been to "Blakeney Point" but that doesn't help me with the poem. "The End of Marriage" is too compressed. As for lines I don't get, here's a small selection

  • "hair twisted and frothed/ as if sawn from tree or ice" (p.30)
  • "as if equipped with an aqualung,/ ladder or canister of oxygen" (p.33)
  • "For one to leave and cross the world/ is to move no more than past/ the other, never out of frame/ but here in place, now in time,/ boundless, bright, defined" (p.38)
  • "Is it not the exact suspension of whiskey and scarlet geranium we saw in the August visitation of Mars?" (p.46)
  • "An anchor caught in the mud keeps hold of nothing./ By what kind of arrangement?/ it might as well be anchoring the earth" (p.48)

Some of these I feel I'd understand better were the phrasing adjusted, but that would be warping the poet's intentions. In the first for example, I think hair can be stiffened using a foamy product, the resulting hair looking like chiselled wood or ice, but the hair's not really frothed, and it couldn't be modelled in wood or ice with a saw. In the third I imagine that the colour of Mars one night was a browny pink - like a red petal suspended in whiskey perhaps.

I note in the reviews that other people mention the increased indirection, in most cases welcoming it.

Other reviews

  • Sean O'Brien (The Guardian) (The hope is to evade the familiar channels of interpretation, to exclude anecdote, to let the subject be itself rather than subject to the allegorising habit which can stifle experience until it is merely exemplary ... What to leave out is a question Greenlaw seems to have considered with great care. ... To let things be involves Greenlaw in reconsidering the relationship between self and the world)
  • Suzi Feay (The Independent) (There is some emotion to be gleaned from these cool, opaque poems. ... Many of the poems are mere wisps on the page, their effects so small that barely anything occurs. But when the reader senses that this restraint of expression really is restraining something, the effect is magical.)
  • Chloe Stopa-Hunt (an assured practitioner in the music ofthe unsaid ... Greenlaw’s poetry is full of doubt and thought; deeply engaged with the process of writing ... In ‘Spill’, poetry’s exactitude (or deliberate occlusion) becomes a game:“The herring is a silver purse,/ no longer a purse of silver”. ... a beautifully assembled collection, artistic in every sense.)
  • Steven M. Critelli (Ms. Greenlaw is a very fine poet and as sure in her craft as anyone writing today)
  • Charlotte Keith (Varsity) (She doesn’t need to say much – there is plenty of white space on these pages – because her impeccable formal control makes each word work hard.)

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