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, 5 November 2014

"England Underwater" by Christopher James (Templar, 2012)

18 of the poems are rather longer than a page. Several more are nearly a page long. The shortest poem is sonnet length. Poems like "Wasteland" still bother with line-breaks, but forgo stanza-breaks. I think nearly all the line-breaks could be removed and paragraphs added, though the odd rhyme scheme creeps in ("The Fenland Pole Vaulters" is abba).

I enjoy his reworkings of Englishness -

  • In the title poem when England was underwater, "stately homes appeared like tacky ornaments at the bottom of a fish bowl. Sharks swam through the bicycle wheel of the London Eye".
  • In "HMS Great Britain" the country becomes a giant boat - "The Isle of Wight bumped in front of us; Penzance potted the Isles of Scilly ... In the Ridings, cricket teams manned the oars, ten thousand spin bowlers pulling as one ... The Prime Minister steered from Brighton, the Royal Pavilion his wheel house; he sent messages to Newcastle for more coal".
  • "The Pub Sign Giant" imagines a giant whose appearance and behaviour is formed from traditional pub imagery.

The latter sounds like brained-stormed riffing, good though it is. I sense workshop techniques in use elsewhere too - "The Brother" sounds like a researched, free-versed info-dump. I'm not keen on it, or the poems on Oates, Beatrix Potter, or Rupert Brooke.

Some of his ideas for poems are so good that the words must have flowed from them easily. "The Faerie Queen" features Queen Victoria as a wounded angel of sorts. In "The Vertical Garden" the lighthouse keepers use the building to force rhubarb, etc. "The Village of Bond Villains" has Nick Nack playing cricket, Scaramanga working in the post office, and Goldfinger bellringing. I like "The Rain Family". But not all of the ideas work, and some outstay their welcome - in "The Motor Cars of the Cowboys" 5 actors each get a stanza; in "The English Novelists are in the Trees" 5 writers each get a stanza; in "The New World" a blue Lincoln Continental is sailed across the Pacific, echoing "HMS Great Britain". "The Swimmer" is more demanding. "Song of England" has some patterning, but it's a weak way to end the book.

In isolation, many poems look like competition candidates. I'm a sucker for poems like "The Unicyclists of Covent Garden"

In cravats we ride the astonished O,
perched above pendulums in white shirts,
black waistcoats, like levitating waiters
... we freewheel
across cobbles becoming bicycles in shop windows.
At tea, we congregate like storks at prayer

He's done well in the National Poetry Competition, Bridport and Ledbury so why isn't he better known? Why wasn't he a Next Gen contender? Kathryn Simmonds, who also takes ideas for walks, has had less competition success but more plaudits. He's been with 3 publishers, none of them major, but perhaps the main problem is that there's no pretentiousness, no difficulty, and few poetical devices. The big matters of Love and Death barely figure. There's no crisis of Language, or of "Self". Indeed, there might be nothing personal in the book at all, though a few pieces sound more intimate. "With Batman, On Chesil Beach" ends with "he is the wonder that fills/ my emptiness; the boy that/ saved the man; dusk falls,/ the birds circle and we head/ back to the car leaving/ our shadows, like discarded/ selves, on Chesil Beach" which makes me think he should stick to the imagery stuff.

Typo on p.33? "and Rousseau combed his hair my fingertips".

Other reviews

None online that I can find, which is a shame and a surprize.

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