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, 28 June 2014

"Raptors" by Toon Tellegen (Carcanet, 2006)

The translator is Judith Wilkinson. In her introduction she points out that "In the Netherlands Tellegen is practically a household name", and that "each poem except the last beginning ritualistically with the words 'My father' ... In beginning each poem with an idiom or proverb that evokes something of the father's make-up and temperament, Tellegen taps into the lifeblood of language ... It is as if the language itself - restless, hyperbolical - has been infected by the picture that is portrayed". The poet in his preface writes "years ago I invented someone whom I called my father" and that he called these poems 'raptors' because "I picked that word from a dictionary, with my eyes shut".

The book's 110 pages long. The poems can be read quickly, though they may need to be read twice.

The poem on p.15 is typical. It begins with an idiom - "My father/ was in the seventh heaven" then continues "my mother visited him// she asked if she might kiss him,/ my father said:/ 'that's what the other heavens are for'" after which "now and then an angel peered through a window/ and asked if there was anyone who'd like to fight".

p.19 starts with a similar setting - "My father/ was on cloud nine". The narrator's brothers often appear in mid-poem, and the mother at the end (as here) - the brothers "made a ladder/ and climbed up to the clouds ... and he made it rain/ and my mother fell ill".

Some poems have a plot. p.64 starts with "My father/ looked in a mirror// 'get out of my sight,'/ he said softly, almost inaudibly, and he vanished from his sight". He looks in lakes and mirrors, "but he couldn't find himself any more".

Some of the poems don't get far. p.104 for example starts "My father/ didn't know that he was in despair,/ it was his blind spot" and ends "my father knew himself,/ knew everything about himself// but not that he was in despair", which perhaps displays the static nature of despair.

p.66 begins "My father/ was immense and limitless// it was raining/ and my brothers were horses that trotted across the vastness of my father", ending with "my father was eternity// but my mother is here, now,/ a fraction of every second.", which I liked, but elsewhere the limited pleasures of the book are too diffuse for my liking.

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