"Her style is highly original" says the blurb. In at least 3 of the poems the stanzas don't all have the same number of lines. One of those is "The Usual Thing". Here are its first 4 sentences -
- "The day walks out again across the earth on cheerful feet." - the next poem in the book has "clockless seconds stepped across the floor on tiptoe"
- "Here before me the sky unrolls a blue the length of a calendar with poses of a blackbird stopping on the path to listen." - a calendar is 12 months long? 12 birds are lined up along the path? The sky is blue each month that the narrator looks out?
- "The lawn is held transfixed in spray under the sprinkler system shiny as a pin-up." - this doesn't end with the expected "as a pin". I presume that "pin-up" and "poses" are connected somehow. But what is shiny? Given the choice of word-order probably the sprinkler system.
- "The sun, a bright-eyed boy, is lying on his back on a sheet of diamonds and yellow silk." - I thought the "sheet of diamonds" was the lawn with its sparkly droplets, but the sun wouldn't be lying on that. A boy might - on a yellow silk blanket?
Of course I'm taking it too literally, but each sentence presents a different kind of difficulty or doubt.
I liked "Baby's breath" though I had to consult the web before knowing that the title's the name of a flower. The interpretation's fluid (flowers are like a baby, a baby's like a flower, parents are like flowers) - "Cut flowers are half-dead already you said ... we were bending over the cot for the least word of your breath ... We sat with our overblown heads tilted down dropping petal after petal onto the carpet under a brown light"
Halfway through the poem "Like the sea" there's a sudden lurch into another register - "alert/ as a pixie standing in your pyjamas// beside the hospice bed, the memory rose/ like the ocean inside a footprint// washing its edges until the wet/ slurry was level with the sand". The water-imagery and the description of someone as if they're in a painting is common in the book, but the gloominess is usually less explicit.
"At Mill Meadow" (like "Gust", which also uses water and landscape; like "Tomb", which begins "In this new version of yourself" and has drops, sky and clouds) addresses [self-]image - "For a long time she'd slept curled inside/ her shape like an unborn child.// but that day on a walk through the woods/ she saw herself open out suddenly ... She runs quickly down the path to the beach// to see it before a cloud/ darkens the mob of the senses."
"Tomb" (p.20) is where the quality slackens, not revived by "The Logic of Atoms". It's rather a barren patch in the collection. "Even when it seems" and "The Conquest of Loveless hill", and "Sentence" don't work for me. "Rabbit and wind" is strange.
When she takes an idea for a walk, it can be a long meander.
- "Eleven" is 33 lines - "she had wide sunlit parkland under her boy's T-shirt" (the T-shirt not the boy is hers) then "Camped on the slope of a hill - a gypsy tent like a strange brown bud" then "the big top presents a turmoil of acts … in one hand popcorn, in the other a goldfish … they build fat pyramids that look enormously small … And these two acrobats, each exhibiting a dark pink tutu .. while still tossing from hand to hand a bowling ball and an egg"
- "Anecdote of a Stone" caught my attention. Here's the start, a few middle bits, and the end - "Dull and exact as a stone/ this word might have remained/ in the kingdom of minerals ... if I hadn't lifted it from the dust ... and aimed it unswervingly as a key ... and while the pond lay perfectly still/ locked edge to edge in the ground/ flat as a cloth covering a table/ or a face that gave nothing away ... this one word might/ with the accuracy of a stone/ have broken the surface ... rode straight through its doors/ and sent the awakened waves/ curling and casting their light/ in increasing circles/ like a smile that won't stop/ breaking across your face".
"The wild duck in the attic" has several log-jammed similes - "the rooms hum as if the house, eyes closed, rests sideways on a pillow dreaming, each chink half-open like a mouth. Dreamer, we thought we knew your body like an alphabet we'd learned by heart: the dark places wedged like blood under a thumbnail" (my italics). It's a feature of her work, as are extended similes -
- "the shadows let out for the night/ are hiding like loopholes in the sunshine/ in long black ovals under the trees" (p.12)
- (of magpies) "they flocked and hustled/ and the multitude of days and nights/ flapped their pages""
I like "Portrait from memory", a portrait of gradual decay. A Mind of Winter (a Guardian poem of the week) is my favourite poem of the book.