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

"Tree Language" by Marion McCready (Eyewear publishing, 2014)

Poems from Poetry (Chicago), Shearsman Magazine, etc. I like their non-minimalism.

The first section, "Where the Dead", concerns births and deaths. It's rich in imagery. For example

  • "The Clyde" begins "breathing, two streets away,/ writes its reverberations on my bones.// Spidery fuchsias/ drag through my hair"
  • "The Black Art" ends "I am a lampshade of a girl;/ I light up the rocks/ with the whirl of my skirt./ You may think I am a sort of fish, you may/ stroke the gills behind my ears"

This kind of writing risks appearing uneven. I don't get "The Animal in the Pot" though I like "Where the Dead". I don't get "The Unintelligible Conversation of Unpicked Rhubarb" at all. I like the loose-jointed imagery of "Where the dead", and "The Pond is an Unknown Force" but not "The Animal in the Pot".

The "Tree Language" section has imagery-rich poems about plants -

  • In "Roses" "there' s no going back,/ no indiscovery of Mars/ or these red planets brooding before before me,/ light predators, sun-hatched/ and bloodening like the fists of women/ who have gone to war".
  • "Daffodil horns" are "star-splayed mouths from the yellow bellies of starfish ... these lampshade-and-bulb trespassers periscope from the bottom of a foreign vase"
  • "Wild Poppies" are "earth's first blood ... I envy your lipstick dress. You are urgent as airmail ... bees blackening your mouth as your dirty red laundry all hangs out"
  • "Two Daffodils Lying on a Window Ledge" are "Yellow birds, dive-bombed, stunned ... I can hear them breathe, lying there like a childless couple"

Although the vehicles sometimes share a domain, usually they only have the tenor in common. They're attractive pieces. I most like "The wishbone tree" - the tree "is making cathedral shadows ... dead/ to the roots of the tree-bone/ that is their shape-maker/ forked author/ and alter-ego". I like "View" too - "Marble sky indented,/ swithering branches ... The green wings/ of a stained glass thistle/ spill to milk cartons". "Gateway to the Highlands" is rather too obscure for me though.

The "Promised Land" section is set in Jerusalem, where

In the distance, three men run.
Freeze-framed they become, uncannily,

the three on a hill where the penitent one
turned to the other in supplication.

which does little for me. More interestingly

The ridiculous giraffe-necks of the palms
converse at the city gates.
The blue sky dims into mist and behind the New Gate
a straggle of flame-clouds lower on the hill.
A minaret-arm stretches out of the city.

The "Reflections" section includes "Black Swans"

Blunt-beaked, bloodshot-eyed,
their rump feathers singe the sky,

crook necks rising
to the ghost of a rainbow.

They spill across buttermilk waves
under the gaze of kouroi plane trees

and the 4-parted "Reflections" which includes

magnolias    silken birds
lie on the frost-taut grass

we exchange mist with our mouths
your lips canvassing mine

in dreams    the sea uncharts me

its tottering blacks call

Sometimes the pace slows - "The Girls" "admire the tide of nail polish bottles before them,/ the limitless possibilities of the colour pink./ They watch their hands transform into something beautiful,/ their tipped fingers glowing like lit matches./ ... they don't know what glamorous means/ or the years of chipped polish that lie ahead of them/ or the dresses that will one day consume them."

The consequence of the style is a weakening of narrative and argument (traits that abound in her degree subjects - philosophy, politics and history). Poems like "Cursed" have a plot, but more often juxtaposition creates lists of comparisons that lack the quirky, amusing surreal squibiness of Selima Hill's work, or pent-up Plathean imagery. But neither is it the cold ornamentalism of some of the Martian school. Unlike Lorca's image streams, these poems often keep returning to describing their static subject using an list of images - which is fine, but has its limits. Perhaps that's why I prefer the first section to the others.

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