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, 29 January 2014

"So Many Moving Parts" by Tiffany Atkinson (Bloodaxe, 2014)

Poems like "Boy with red umbrella" and "Plumbing" are straightforward except for the punchlines. "Girl with blue towel" is a portrait of an adolescent beginning to define herself in the presence of a photographer. "Woman with a paperback romance" deals with an older woman on holiday, one who doesn't need men but who "balances/ her backbone at the bar against a glass/ of Sauvignon" (p.35), whatever that means. That poem ends "What/ does the dog want that howls all night,/ the lizard with its soft translucent hands?". What indeed, but that's the only puzzle in that poem. Sometimes whole poems are off-the-wall. The blend reminds me a little of Chrissy Williams' poems. It's conceptual disruption - I think "Roaming" is the only poem with syntactic disruption and even then it's rationalised by being presented as a phonecall with bad reception. I guess this is what the blurb refers to when it describes the poems as "Lyrical and experimental by turns". The freedom she gives herself is the type I'd like to emulate. But some poems are beyond me. For example, "La poulette grise (an IVF lullaby)" has 6 stanzas, each beginning "It's the ... chicken who lays in the ..." and each followed by a chorus that grows a line longer each time. After the first stanza, the other stanzas add little.

Except (I think) for "Phallus Impudicus" (syllabics - 11/11/11/5) her line/stanza breaks don't mean much. Unlike her first book, this one has many regular-stanza poems.

I like "All/ [diggers] want to talk about is surfaces/ to any road that will listen" (p.19) and "Barstool, by Michael Warren" - "Out of the woods comes/ the hand and its delicate fretwork ... he will crib/ from the compound tense of wood". I like the following, which starts the "Groundwater" part of "Two parts of rain".

All day the land has been studying
books and books of water.

It has dropped off
face-down in the page.

You must walk in it.
What is the rain but a literature

you thought you had down pat
except that wasn't it, quite.

Throughout, there's striking imagery - "And someone's been feeding/ the heart's cold pony in its claggy field " (p.11), "Now sunset drives its ambulance into the sea" (p.20), "gangly as a hand-whisk" (p.48), the following

The hands of flight attendants
shake us like napkins
from thin air
and place us helpless in our own laps.
How precious we are,
two hundred or so fitted gems.


was the caravan's fitted republic

of bunks and a flushable loo
in whose chemical dusks

we squatted like foxes and cherished
our smells.

though there's also more obscure passages. This is the end of "Crystal"

The dog has unhinged her sticky thorn
of crap and flown, her shadow with her;

we have laughed ourselves shiny and flat.
Oh, Ira, what does the world want?

I can imagine the crap unhinging, but why "thorn"? Why flown? Is the shadow her owner? The dog's called "Crystal" - is that a clue? And what's the final stanza about? Shiny meaning sweaty? And what's so funny anyway?

I didn't appreciate the poems on pages 14-18, "Guts" which is a list of anecdotes on the theme of guts or "Mantra" which is 20 short stanzas mostly beginning with "The ego's a mistake" (though some of the latter's stanzas work).

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