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, 18 October 2014

"Blizzard" by Matthew Francis (Faber, 1996)

He's done 10 years in the software business, has an interest in chess, writes poetry and prose, works in a university (a creative writing professor) and writes occasional non-mainstream Formalist/Oulipo pieces, and he's roughly my age. On the face of it he's as close a match as I'll find.

Many of his pieces have formalist shapes while avoiding the standard formalist preoccupations. The 8 stanzas of "After the Bee" have a syllabus count of 999994 and a rhyme scheme of abacbc. "Again" is a villanelle. "Chasak" is a sestina. "Diversion has abba stanzas. "From a High Place" has looser rhymes, the pattern being abaacdcd. "Poem Without Words" is 5 abababcc stanzas, the first beginning

An afternoon in early you know
it has birds in it the time of year
they're always writing about things grow
the whatever shines. I'm sitting here

which is fun for a while. I quite like "Tuba Mirum". "Poem Found in a Box of Indoor Fireworks" is almost light verse - quotable lines surrounded by padding. "Winter City" sounds like it's set in Cambridge, with ghosts and a relaxed pace - "My clock, roosting on a live record-player,/ shrieked its alarm each morning at full volume". "Power Cut" is 5 abba stanzas, easy going

Neighbours are talking in the garden -

we didn't know we had so many.
Their voices crisscross, passing between
hedges, as their cats do. Did you phone?
And did they tell you what they told me?

"Notes for Nightingale" is indeed that - notes about the bird, and notes for a poem. "Towards Midnight" is 40 abacbc stanzas, with material more often found in prose - e.g. "He didn't even look at the clock/ so perhaps it was true after all,/ he could taste time. At least he could drink/ half the night, which may be the same thing" (p.52); "The room seemed worn out, the walls/ scantily papered, the fabrics thin:// chair cover, carpet, bedclothes. Maybe/ people had lived harder in this room/ and it had room fatigue. Nobody/ could weave blankets so frail. And the bed/ was so tightly made that every time/ I wanted to turn over I had// to ask permission." (p.53). "Blizzard" is longer still - 30 numbered sections each of 4 stanzas, the rhyme pattern being abab cbc dede fef. Again the style can be relaxed - "How it began I don't remember. The beginning's shrunk in the past and/ the ending glides into the future./ There is no telling how it will end".

So were we separated at birth? I don't think I could have written any of these. I was impressed by more of them than I liked, and I liked his later book, Dragons, more.

No comments:

Post a Comment