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, 13 September 2014

"Grace" by Esther Morgan (Bloodaxe, 2011)

The first, title poem, has many quotable parts - e.g. "the house empties like a city in August/ so completely/ it forgets you exist" though some have a familiar sound - "In the stillness, everything becomes itself". "Epiphany" takes poetry about poetry a step further - an epiphany about an epiphany. "Waiting Places" has "these cracks in our lives/ where Traveller's Joy takes root,/ turning into Old Man's Beard as we wonder/ what to do", which sounds a bit cheap. "Enola Gay" is another Enola Gay poem. "Long Exposure" is another poem about how things in motion become blurred or invisible in old photos. "Five Easy Pieces" ends with

That's where the movie always leaves her,
just before the future kicks in,
our pulses quickening as we watch him watching
as she shrinks to nothing in the truck's rear view
while the driver asks where he's from, where he's going.

which rather overlards the liminal, the placelessness. "Short-hold" is one of the poems that collects imagery about an impending moment of change - "This is the gap before territory,/ before the first fight, the first sex .... like the sleep of a new-born/ we haven't yet named.". That said, these poems do a good job at reviving old ideas.

Around p.20 the poems slacken off for a dozen pages or so, though there are a few final lines (p.28, p.31) that offer hope. Her poems can be punch-liney, depending on a final simile - the endings of pages 31-35 are "A red deer delicately eating/ each closed tulip like a prayer", "In the sun the shirts and summer dresses hang glittering/ like the clothes of the baptised", "a moth mistook her throat/ for a flower", "that ring of mushroom on the green/ blooming in the moonlight like a soul", "a farmhouse window is shining like home// as a light will always shine/ when seen from a great enough distance". Elsewhere too, analogies come thick and fast, so many that there are bound to be a few less successful instances. I can imagine people not liking all of them, having seen them before - e.g. "Outside time is sliding by/ like ice on the river,// but this stillness is a ring/ you might keep forever/ in a silk-lined box" (p.49), or "The light hasn't caught me yet,/ is too absorbed// persuading each simple object/ of its existence" (p.45).

I like "Grace", "Hide Nor Hair", and "Homing", and parts of many of the others. Where the poem depended too much on the last line, or sounded like a Burnsidean mood-piece about absence, light, and almosting, I was less convinced. There's a typo (I think) on p.20 - "ft" rather than "fit".

Other reviews

  • Ben Wilkinson (Guardian) (oddly, there can be an absence of detail in Morgan's writing. Instead, a broadly familiar yet quietly eerie world is often sketched, where the narrator or reader is waiting on something that may or may not happen ... The problem is that reading Grace can start to feel like watching a dull art film in which the action, the promise of a jolting denouement, never comes. Or put another way: there is little kinetic energy in Morgan's poems, things tending to remain as stored-up potential.)
  • David Cooke (ink, sweat and tears) (Esther Morgan’s beautifully poised and elliptical poems are a celebration of the essential mystery of human existence. )
  • Emma Lee (“Grace” is a masterclass in control and the necessity of finding the right word, even if it’s a simple one, allowing readers to see the commonplace in a new light.)
  • Emma Greensmith (Varsity) (The title poem evokes with elegant simplicity the opportunities to be found in empty moments ... the collection itself becomes an exercise in watching and waiting, a subtle assault on the kinetic. ... Morgan takes great pains to avoid slipping into portentousness with a deliberate lack of detail and unadorned language. ... Tellingly, it is in her attempts to come closer to depicting solid action, for instance in Five Easy Pieces or the strangely ineffective ‘News’, that Morgan falls flat. Thankfully, though, such misfires are few and far between)

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