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, 28 January 2015

"Sandgrain and hourglass" by Penelope Shuttle (Bloodaxe, 2010)

Published only 4 years after her previous book. 120 pages!

In the first half of the book she often uses WCW's stepped triplets. "Gansey" ends with a stepped sestet! She uses couplets and triplets too, though most often the layout's irregular.

She has several highly qualified fans. Were the book and the poems shorter, I might have been a fan as well. I couldn't decide how I was supposed to interpret her use of poetical clichés and recycled ideas. Too many passages were like "I thought my weeping days were over and done, but these tears are fresh as paint" - if you like that, you may like the book; if you think that tabs can make these lines even better, you've a treat in store. I wasn't keen on "Bedtime", "Gansey" (a found poem?), "Like Agnes", "At the Hospital", "Silver Ring", "Yellow Broom", "Gifts", "In the Tate", and "Distance". I liked "Royal Society for the Promotion of Loneliness", "Moonspeed", "Moon and Sea". Also on the plus side, several poems were based on promising, imaginative ideas (though I've seen the stars-from-a-well idea and some of the others used for similar purposes in poems elsewhere). Below are the lines that I marked on the bookmark (shown above; it's typical of my bookmarks) - the first 2 extracts I mostly like, and the maternity joke is fun, but I'm not sure about the others.

  • sometimes your absence hovers/ close to me in the form of a hummingbird// whose bright wings beat the rain into so many rainbows/ I'm like the river drinking from her own cupped hands ... (p.27)
  • Your summer wishes me well./ My sunset rushes off without a word// You rule over a Byzantium of nettles./ I tell them rain's unfinished story (p.29)
  • Rain knuckled down over The Lizard/ clean as any small language (p.32)
  • Today/[TAB] I stop in my tracks,/[TAB][TAB] twist on the spit of grief// I thought my weeping days were over and done,/ [TAB] but these tears// [TAB][TAB] are fresh as paint (p.38)
  • To stop myself thinking about all the days and nights/ we'll never share,/ I keep myself busy as a maternity hospital/ nine months after a catastrophic city-wide power failure (p.54)
  • I've turned my tears into a cloud,/ wrapped myself in its silver lining,// turned the bitter cup of pride/ into a cask of wine rarer than hooch// brewed from the mare's-teat grape (p.58)
  • I'm sending you messages/ all the time// by spirit-parcel-post,/ holi-gost kisses (p.65)
  • Every day Grief sets me my lesson ... surely after such coaching and cramming/ I can't fail (p.79)
  • ... and every morning/ round about now,/ Grief pads in,// electrodes at the ready,/ or will it be those splinters of bamboo/ under my fingernails this time? (p.101)

Other reviews

  • Ben Wilkinson (Guardian) (A moving and abundant book ... Again and again, Shuttle relates complex emotions with a light earnestness, humour, and electric imagination
  • Angela Topping (Ink, Sweat and Tears) (The directness of language, the wit and invention and sheer love of life and people shines through in every word. 'Sandgrain and Hourglass' is a triumph. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you are in love, grieving or love good poetry, then this is the book for you

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