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, 24 November 2013

"The Sleepwalker at Sea" by Kelly Grovier (Carcanet, 2011)

I've never heard of this poet, which is rather surprising. I liked the first poem, "The Guest", which suggests that whenever we leave a house, someone enters. If so, what might those people be like? Might we confuse ourselves with them? I liked "The Other City" too. "Feet" was interesting in that there was a full-stop at the end of each line even when it wasn't the end of a sentence. But there are many poems that didn't work for me - some for "so what?" reasons, some (I suspect) because he knows far more about art and poets than I do.

  • "The Book of Clues" starts by describing an old book whose title, epigrams and texts have faded. After 15 lines, the narrator's ""hoping one day/ I might find, tucked in its tangle/ of esoteric script, the devil/ I was thinking when I wrote it", a twist that doesn't justify the build-up. I thought some other poems suffered from the same flaw.
  • "Face Blindness" starts "Every day I lose you/ over and over in the crowd/ of your own face -/ the way winter loses ground// hour by hour/ in an amnesia of snow", which is nice albeit not entirely original. It ends "I will recognise you .../ by the way you lose me -/ line by line in the slow emptiness of a poem". I'm unsure at the end whether the narrator is lost and confused by what the "you" character does, or whether the "you" loses the narrator. And what has this suddenly introduced poetry interpretation issue (vehicle or tenor?) to do with the condition mentioned in the title?
  • "Trakl" is 3 4-lined stanzas, though other arrangements seem more suitable. In stanza 1 (and a bit) "we" listen for noises in a tower. In stanza 2 (and a bit) in another mind "deer dissolve/ into a tapestry of mist" and a hunter visits an inn, the poem ending with - "The hammering of glasses./ Nothing echoes because nothing's real". I looked up "Trakl" (I knew he was a poet but that's all). He was secretly funded by Wittgenstein, but that can't be the reason for his use here.
  • "Old-Fashioned Things" starts "I've typed and deleted the first line of this poem/ fifteen times in the last hour/ with so little to show for the effort,/ I wonder if I should own a computer at all./ Give me more old-fashioned things:// a journal that never needs rebooting;/ an un-upgradeable pencil", which sounds long-winded.
  • I don't get "Fergus" - it's more playful than the other pieces, but even so.

I found the imagery of "Twilight, and the mist is once again/ scaffolding the hill, smoothing niches/ into its doming brain, while a wren/ of smoke consecrates the curve" ("Wren") o'erleapingly confusing, nor was I convinced by "Summer slows to spool its grasses,/ the gnats are knitting heat;/ a butterfly dusts in and measures/ the universe's weight" ("The Meadow"). I prefer it when the images themselves narrate, or carry the argument. In "A Little Night Music" (distracting title?) the narrator decides to "wear" his/her soul according to how a particular mannequin dresses. But she's not in her window, "confident behind so much glass".

When I find her, discarded on an empty street,
propped against a broken chair,
she just leaned there like an unstrung cello -
a pair of flawless arms, conducting from a bin.

I'm reminded of Fenton's skip.

"we" or "us" is often used. Art is a popular subject. p.43 and p.50 have abab stanzas - the only rhymed poems, I think.

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