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, 18 February 2015

"A Light Song of Light" by Kei Miller (Carcanet, 2010)

A Guardian article about him written just after he'd won the Forward prize says "Miller first discovered the power of his own voice as a young preacher in Jamaica, but abandoned the church for an academic career in Britain. As a penniless student in Manchester, he earned money by winning poetry slams, becoming the 2004 Manchester slam poetry champion. He later said: “I am ashamed to have won that prize, and truth be told I am also ashamed that I am ashamed”.
In the eight years since his first collection was published he has produced two novels, a short story collections, three more poetry collections and a book of “essays and prophecies”, and he is a prolific blogger and tweeter. He attributes his productivity partly to his recently diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The book's in 2 parts - "Day Time" and "Night Time". I used to write prose of the type which starts

  • "Some Definitions for Light (I)" - "-[etymology] photo, root word for light, hence photology - the study of light. Photometer - the measurement of light. Photophilia - measurement of light. Photophilia, the love of light; the photophilic are drawn helpless, like sunflowers whose round faces travel around the day like the hand of a clock, like Agatha who insisted on dying even though she was well." and
  • "Some Definitions for Song" "- the speech of birds, as in birdsong, but with exceptions. Pigeons do not sing. Vultures do not sing. A bargain, or a very small sum, as in 'he bought it for a song'. Think what we could purchase with songs, thrown across the counter and landing more softly than coins"

What put me off writing more pieces in this style was the ease with which they could be churned out. There are several other poems with borrowed definitions, and several list poems too. p.22 is a found poem. "If this short poem stretches", "The Longest Song" and "What can be accommodated" seem slight to me. I can't see how poems like "Call this apocalyptic...", "Abracadabra" or "A Prayer at Squire Street, 2009" merit the space they're given. "Unsung" uses an old trick - by replacing an informative word by "song", a plain text (in this case about a self-sacrificing person) is given a poetic makeover. It begins with "There should be a song for a man who does not sing himself" and ends a punch-line - "There should be a song for my father". For good measure it's double-spaced.

He handicaps himself by trying to put "song" or "sing" in each poem. He introduces the "Singerman" character who's explained only on the back cover - why not notes?

"Some Definitions for Night" begins with "- the time which follows evening like the next carriage of a train. A justification for candles and by extension love whose pronouncement is made easier in dark spaces". I think I've used that first simile.

"Brochure" nearly works for me. I liked "Thinkin Home" and "De True Story of Nathaniel Morgan". I think it's fair to say that the styles he uses aren't my favorite ones, and that some are beyond my comprehension. That said, the poems I feel some empathy with don't seem to me especially 'good of their type'.

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