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.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

"Track" by Annemarie Austin (Bloodaxe, 2014)

I've not come across this poet's work before, though she's had several books (including a "New and Selected") published, dating from 1987 or so. She's published in the places where younger generations appear - "The Rialto", "Magma", etc. Younger poets haven't displaced her, but if she's been around so long why isn't she better known? Perhaps she doesn't write enough about herself, or write memorable lines. Consider

Landscape with Figure
I can't figure the landscape's
inbreath outbreath
at this intersection of woman
with grass trees graves path

It seems an either or
and looking at the woman means
landscape's become the water
to hold and show that fish

If I turn my back on the sea
I can hear it better
If I block out the woman
I see the curl of the trees

Other poems have punctuation, so the lack here is mimetic, making it harder for the reader to distinguish the wood for the trees. In stanza 2, what does "It" refer to? Which fish is "that fish" Why the delayed mention of water? The poem seems to be about the relative merits of foreground (person) and background (inanimate), how we are to engage with such a picture, whether either/or is an appropriate decision to make in this context. Perhaps this decision process is analogous to perception more generally. In a later poem, clarity of foreground becomes an issue again - "I am concerned.[sic]/ that space presses on the edges,/ glad/ that space presses, extending the light/ around all the margins,/ but concerned because/ it leans on the figures until their edges/ blur, almost dissolve" (p.70).

She uses extended comparisons -

  • "Just Grass" mulls over one comparison. In a place where only respectable women wore veils, a harlot wearing a veil was considered a danger to social order. This, in 1.5 pages, is compared to a situation where some grass being cordoned off from other grass that looks indistinguishable.
  • "Painting the Blind Man" mentions a blind boy whose idea of beauty is fish moving through an aquarium, then it mentions a painter, then a blind man's hands that are like fish, a canvas like a cistern, and painted eyes that appear as "faint thumbprints". It's a rather short poem with a profusion of overlapping characters, hands, eyes and objects - a blind boy, a blind man, an aquarium, a cistern, eyes that might be a fish's camouflage.
  • "Suspense" employs a few, more clearly separated comparisons -

    • A cat plays with a feather - "synecdoche"
    • A drunk women neighbour shouts
    • A caterpillar's splitting its skin
    • The narrator recalls finding a five-foot snakeskin in Nicopolis

    At the start of the final stanza we're told that "Baudrillard says there's suspense/ in the fragment", and the images are revisited - the cat's happy; it's speculated that the snake's spine's scattered by now; the neighbour shouts that "they've stolen six inches of her house"; the caterpillar's old skin falls.

"New Timetable" by being unclear sounds better than it is. I liked "Kites and Planes" - 2 paragraphs. Some poems (e.g. "It's Not There") are rather fragmentary. Some (e.g. "Still Motion Studies", "Night Piece with Variation", "Woman in Camera") begin to sound philosophical, but to me end up giving a sense of repetition rather than meditation. A poem's entitled "Glose", which I had to look up ("To minimize or underplay; gloss"). "Once in a Blue moon" is wierd and interesting. "Slow Vocation" has promising subject matter, but I can't see where the poem goes with it.

I don't get "The Right Side of the Cemetery". The persona's picking blackberries in a cemetery then wonders

When did I slip from that
into enumeration, or the struggle to number?
I remember there were blackberries, and now
I find I am somewhere elsewhere, tallying
something or trying to get to where I'll know
what I must tally.

Nothing much else happens. At the end of this page-long poem there are "blackberries growing through/ the plain assignment that somehow won't/ get done, the job from the land of the dead/ I can't look back and see falling away" - phrasing that I have trouble parsing or understanding.

"Dysphasias" (plural of "Dysphasia"?) is in 4 parts, the first sounding like Beckett ("I cry inside. I cry. Inside. So without speech./ Without speech thing. Round. Round without/ thing. Thing inside, I cry.") then in part 3 there's another sample - "prelapsarian/ lapland/ lapis lazuli/ lisped/ Lapsang Suchong/ at her lap/ lipsync-ing/ la-la-la".

She has a weakness for puns - "Third Party" has a few. "The Last Resort" has too many. "The Sick Transit of Gloria Mundy" struggles to justify its title.

In the end then, quite a lot of variety - of layout (though line-breaks rarely matter), of unity - though her stance regarding realism varies less.

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