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, 30 August 2014

"Voluntary" by Adam Thorpe (Cape, 2012)

Perhaps it wasn't a good idea to read this book after having just attended a workshop that discouraged narrative and the use of "like" in poetry - "In bed" is a 16 line poem (4 abba stanzas) which used "like" 4 times - and there are many narrative pieces. Here's the plot of "Writer" - a writer removes words the way he once removed legs from a daddy-long-legs to stop his gran being distracted by them when reading in the garden - did she ever wonder why he stared as the grass rather than enjoy the sun?. I like this as a structure, but I don't see how the perfunctory poetizing of this plot improves the reader experience. That said I prefer it to "Mythos" which is 3 times longer with a less worthwhile plot.

Several of the poems end with a rather flat final stanza that contains some obvious fact or imagery. "Home videos" ends with this stanza

It keeps the detail, unlike
memory. Whole swathes obliterated in between
cannot be loaded and screened, we know. This
is the only stake that's held, and time is mean,
and it always stops mid-show, like a lightning strike
followed by a blizzard - and this triumphant hiss.

It's abcbac though the line-lengths are so irregular that listening to the poem one's unlikely to recognise the rhyme scheme.

Escaping the "wrong" way from IKEA in the 22-line "Panic", the persona finally "emerged in daylight/ as someone might who, escaping// from a theatre's fug mid-scene,/ finds himself out on stage,// dazzled; pretending to be gratified/ by his own applause", an image with has been used before. Other imagery sags sometimes too - e.g. "bowels", "obese" and "landslip" in "I reach into the bowels of your oldest files:/ what are lives but the illusion that all this// matters? So easily scattered, it slides/ into the third bin-bag, already obese, in a landslip of receipts" (p.35).

"Spring class" is the favourite amongst the earlier poems. I think I prefer the longer pieces that keep changing direction, not the one that dawdle - In "Via" for example "The central point was a pillar of stone/ in the Roman forum - about which everything/ revolved and back to which everything// came as the suspended ball in a game/ of skittles rests from its swing: a needle of stone,// a node, something to kick at, not the end of the road/ but the beginning, the start" - a good enough comparison, but a lot of words.

As poetry I think the elegies are nearly all failures.

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