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.

Monday, 30 December 2013

"Tonight the Summer's Over" by Rory Waterman (Carcanet, 2013)

Unimpeachable credentials - the Acknowledgements mention over 25 sources, including "PN Review", "Poetry Review", "Poetry", and "TLS".

There's much about remembering and revisiting, about a child redefining relationships with separated parents, the anxieties about starting a family of one's own, about the death of parents and the difficulty of predicting the future. In the first poem, "Navigating", canoers see a heron burst from the bank and decide to follow it around blind bends. Having initially not seen the heron, the canoers continue their imprecise, indirect observations - "sparrows and whatnot cheeped ... cows ... watched us ignoring them ... inverted willows shivered with river-weeds". "We must pursue, and not expect to find" is the final line, and the book's final line/stanza is "it's time to go".

There's some rhyming and a few sonnets - "Family Business" is my favourite of them. Another sonnet, "Access Visit", has careful observation, restrained emotion, and unostentatious language, so I can imagine people admiring it (the same goes for the book as a whole). I don't dislike it, but the subject matter's not surprizing, and I wouldn't object to more fireworks - I probably undervalue plot and anecdote in poetry. The poems with familiar plots are the ones I'm least sure about. I've doubts about the diminishing returns of the renditions on pages 11, 17 ,18, 30, 32, 33, 39, 63. I prefer "To Help the Birds through Winter". I don't mind p.43, though it's too much like a personal essay. Its rhyme scheme is a half-hearted axxa xbxb xxxx cxxc. In "Unfolding", we're told how a kid cut and coloured a paper chain of people that was on the fridge for 16 years before being stored away. When the grown-up child had a bad car accident, the parents showed the chain to their child to see if s/he could remember it. We don't know if s/he does because "you didn't say". It's all plot to me; were it prose, I think readers would want more.

"Back in the Village" begins "Where did that child go". Seeing his old school, thinking about its pupils the narrator thinks "He's nothing to them; all of this is theirs.". Well yes, but is it ne'er so well expressed?

"Nettles" is another poem that's plot-driven. To paraphrase - "I go to harvest nettles, maybe for soup, stews, or teas, not thinking of the path behind me that I've trampled through the undergrowth. I recall how my nan dug up rhubarb we never ate." Again, how does the white space help?

Metaphors come in clumps - "The Fields over Winceby Battlefield" ends -

a hamlet huddles beside a hay-barn;
a kestrel stuns its world and a speck glitters
where solar panels shield a low bungalow.
The rape's broken out, smearing the fields with butter.
The earth doesn't know what it's known.

I'm not sure about all of those metaphors - the huddling and smearing isn't new. Perhaps that's the point. The final line refers back to the title - too little too late for me. On p.52, the next page, there's a simile I like more, "Ants filed through the cracks in grouting/ jostling like potatoes in a chute", and on p.54 people are "frogmarching a cabinet to the car"

I found the poems on p.14, and p.61 puzzling. The final stanza of "In the Avenue of Limes" is

dashing to clutch at flurries
of washed-out hearts. Dashing
to clutch at flurries of washed-
out hearts. Dashing to clutch
at flurries of washed-out hearts.

which puzzles me too. "Over the Heath" is interesting, a 6-row, 2-column layout of short stanzas. After the final poem that's mentioned in the index, there are 4 blank pages then an untitled bonus poem which is rather good.

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