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, 10 December 2014

"The Glass Swarm" by Peter Bennet (Flambard, 2008)

TS Eliot prize-shortlisted, with many sonnets. I'm having trouble tuning into the poems. Take for example the 2nd poem, "The Naturalist", a first-person narrative set in 1862. Here are the first 5 lines of the 2 stanzas

Inland we have another burning day,
but you, I trust, are cooler by the sea
in that calm haven out of reach,
while your fine fads and theories bedevil
the task of men who preach revealed religion
I wonder if, when one decides to free
oneself from something - duty, or a place -
you've noticed that a pause occurs
sufficient to allow the future
to squeeze into a smaller space?

There's metre and rhyme. Like the rhyme, the register varies. The first, unpromising lines sound conversational (though they introduce relevant topics). The second extract is more consciously poetic. This variety (which in this case stays within the voice of the persona) is common in other poems too. The fragment below from another poem begins with an image seemingly padded out to meet the requirements of the form, then a rather more cryptic analogy -

you're like the squirrel on the chandelier,
we try to reach you, but our fingers
grasp only air, and up you go,
beyond our help, to where your name
comes vacantly from far below,

You planned to age like poetry:
lyric and elegy becoming one
in celebration of the verb to be.

At times the form seems to dictate the diction -

From now on I will be dispensing
with ramblers' maps and all desire
to find the flora to this rabbit-lawn
listed in my guidebook to the fells

and quite often I don't know how I'm supposed to react - e.g.

Please put your book down on the grass
and make your face a real sunbather's face.
Now conjure up a cock and hen,
horse-size, and harnessed to a cage of iron
on slow wheels, with an egg in it
alive and massive but as cold as ice.

Much of the time it's pleasant enough -

Here is the home of lost romance,
where gilded chairs are stiffly paired,
each uppermost inverted, legs in air
to tent the dust-sheets, hammocking the dust.

Other reviews

  • Sarah Crown (Guardian)
  • The Omnivore
  • Booktrade info (Peter Bennet was for many years a well-kept poetic secret, known mostly to his admirers in his adopted northeast. ... The Glass Swarm should ensure that a new audience will encounter this gifted and original poet, who is currently producing his best work)

No comments:

Post a Comment