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, 20 November 2013

"The Water Stealer" by Maurice Riordan (Faber and Faber, 2013)

Duration punctuated by "the moment", or prose punctuated by poetry? The 1st poem ("The Lull") begins "It happened" then later "At this moment". The 2nd poem ("The Hare") begins

The boy has come across fields to the ring-fort
- under the barbed wire, through the wet barley,
over the stream. He's listened to the stonechat
on the thorn about Keefe's Well and fingered
the grass where a rabbit slipped out of sight.

Then suddenly in stanza 2 there's

... if only he could stop,
he could balance the slender jug of his body

Stanzas 2 and 6 begin with "Now", trying to draw the reader into the moment. The boy kills a hare that he finds in a trap set by someone else. That night he dreams that the hare's a mooncalf.

In the 3rd and 4th poems, "Turkeys" and "this bucko" suddenly appear. The 5th poem ("The Poacher") begins "At the streak of dawn". In the 6th poem ("The Barn"), a barn that's been undisturbed for months maybe is entered - "As I step into ...".

Dreams have already appeared. "The Flight" (a sonnet) begins a group of poems where more dreaming features - "I was young again and Mammy was alive" ("The Flight"); "my mother who lives on most nights in my dreams/ where I'm young again" ("The Age of Steam", which ends with a connecting image I've read before - "in my chest/ the hissing thumping piston - 14 years on - of grief"). A few eulogies and "after..." poems follow - sestinas, sonnets, abab stanzas, etc. "Sweet Afton" is about smoking. Here's the relaxed stanza 4 (of 8)

A priest I knew used to nip out to the Gents
With a Gitane before he delivered the sermon.
You'd cadge one off the nurse, she'd wish you luck.
Hearing the news, you'd breathe deep into both lungs.

Or how about his, from "Postcard from San Benedetto del Tronto"

They've found the beach of Hotel Hilbert
where there's always room, one more square

of burning sand to somehow fit a towel,
to plant the lounger and umbrella.
Two pedalos hired; beers; and Grandpa
with cigar is parked beside the cooler

I presume the use of "Hilbert" alludes to Hilbert's space-filling curve, but that's not enough to prevent the passage looking like re-hashed observation - at least the German tourists didn't get there first.

Already we're over half way through the book. Will the pace change? "Gone with the Wind" reads rather like a columnist's article about forgetting names. "Quits" is weak. Then there are some poems involving birds. After those, I rather like "Stars and Jasmine", and the title poem. The latter is 15 4-lined stanzas, with an extra line between stanzas 4 and 5. Waking in a house, the narrator notices a lack of reflections on the ceiling, reflections from the garden pond. S/he wonders where the pondlife (carp, etc) has gone, whether cormorants or foxes have been hunting. S/he fixes the leak, watches the pond refill but (like memory compared to life?) it's not the same. S/he used to like exploring ponds, but "the minuscule tardigrade I've seen only on YouTube". S/he recalls other ponds, other foxes, his/her father crying, "hammering the armrest/ with an arthritic fist till he broke it (the armrest)". The father had been crippled in a riding accident caused by a dog. The narrator begins to bemoan "a night of pillage and ruin" then sees some fish amongst the lilies, "me in floods at the sight". 2 of the stanzas, in italics, read like parts of nursery rhymes.

He's not my type of poet, but when form imposes compression, or when the poems are long enough for the detours to be interesting in their own right, he's ok.

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