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, 24 September 2014

"The Barking Thing" by Suzanne Batty (Bloodaxe, 2007)

On the back cover it says that she writes "risky poems which come from left field ... the real and unreal are deliberately confused ... The writing balances on a sharp edge between ... meaning and insignificance". For me, too much was confused and too little was significant. Here's the start of a poem that I can cope with -

Making something of it

October is a birdcage cover over the head.
I crouch in the bath for days, taking in water.
My hair is a beach, shedding empty crab shells
brittle spikes of sea holly. Bones of fish.

The apple tree is sickening.

Honesty rattles its bleached ovaries.

The 1st line's no problem. The 2nd I can handle, though "crouch" is unexpected, so I delay its interpretation. "I" is imagined as a leaky boat. I like the 3rd line in isolation, but in context the metaphors are beginning to mix (which in itself I don't mind). It's the 4th line and the lack of punctuation at the end of 3rd line which begin to disappoint me. The 5th line's "sickening" could mean that the tree is sick or that the tree has a sickening effect on an observer. I like the 6th line -"Honesty" is (also) the Lunaria plant. Is "beach" and "bleached" so close together an accident? When I try making something of all that, my energy dissipates.

In "Dog's gift" the persona is at least partly canine - I like these sections

I'm not going back to sit in the fire.
I have made circles of the garden
at high speed, a noose around my neck.
I have done the barking thing.
I am next. I will not be seen.
They'll listen to my heart
and hold my trembling black wool head
to keep me from leaving,
make me lie in the dark with children,
take notes on the direction of my fur.

I'm less sure about phrases like "Sky and sea such a conflict of grey/ the seabird's gold knives may be needed" (p.31). Gold knives?

Here's the start of a poem I struggle with

Dog has risen

Heat has undressed the blank wall
where music comes from.
He can't stop smiling
waltzing through my door like Billy Graham

only made out of paper.
We do the little dance of ghosts
in an accidental twilight.
He still has a nose, a blanket.

I can see that it's playing with the dog/god confusion. That's about it.

On p.43 begins a sequence, the first section entitled "Lev. I". Leviticus? No notes, so I can only guess. The second is entitled "Lev II". No full stop this time. Why not? The section ends "A secret party of blackthorn trees/ will be carrying handbags full of rain.// The man downstairs will be in trouble/ with his concrete birdbath strategy". Eh? "Mattress Man" begins "I call myself the ghost of joy/ for want of something better./ I do not tend the field, I do not mend the glass/ or take the tractor out. Water is difficult.". Eh? "Three colours only" ends with "She takes her brush to the simmering sea,/ she makes it a glass to see through gladly./ She lies to her lovers like a visionary". Or how about stanza 5 of "Dog at Glencoe" - "Dog's claws on the stones are/ sharpening their moonfaces"? Is it the claws that have moonfaces? Maybe stanza 6 will help - "Maybe, later, the hills will lean their long arms over,/ let down their red hair.". Second thoughts, maybe it won't.

Themes come and go. Death and various lovers (the mattress man, the possum-hunter) appear. "Dog and the bad dream" is a villanelle, but there doesn't seem to be much concern elsewhere for form. I liked "Natasha's house" and "Paper boy". I wonder if "I thanked the flour for it's nakedness" (p.18) contains a typo.

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