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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

"Gathering Evidence" by Caoilinn Hughes (Carcanet, 2014)

Poems from PN Review, etc. Here's the start of "Avalanche"

When the avalanche came down on us

it did not come down on us in a holy light,
flickering between this dimension and another

ultraviolet one. It did not shower its sermon upon us
in meaning-ful, vowel-less sounds like stalactites.
It did not come down on us at all. It came up, up, over

The line-counts of the stanzas are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 15, befitting the title, but I'm puzzled by while the final stanza isn't broken into 2 (7-lined and 8-lined), by the ultraviolet dimension, the hyphens, and how showering can be like stalactites. I'm also puzzled by some of the other scientific/maths usage later in the book -

  • "If he could secure/ a hailstone in a wheelbarrow, with solid algebra, he could square a circle.// To square a circle! He might as well have measured the Garden/ of Eden if he could master this binomial expansion" (p.13). What's its purpose? How should maths/science literate people interpret it?
  • "Okay, he told himself calmly. O.K.// K was the reproduction factor, which must equal more than one/ for a chain reaction. This was quite a bending of the spoon/ for the Italian, as there is no K in his mother tongue. Only Chi. Che./ Who. What. How much would be critical" (p.18)

"This is What Makes It go Bang" is mostly a re-write of "The Naming of Parts". "Rational Dress" has a lot of words, e.g. "Pierre left his crystals behind to assist/his weighing out and grinding of pitchblende and chalcolie/ with a pestle and mortar - unaware that the diamond they sought// was not a diamond but a needle, which could not be found/ in 100 grammes of haystack but in tons of ore" and "Her papers, cookbooks, cycling apparel, wedding dress/ are stored in lead-lined boxes. To consult them, one must wear/ protective clothing". The status of females, especially in science settings is dealt with, though a little article might have been preferable.

Passages like these from "Bruisewort" lessen my trust in the writer -

  • "To discover the atom is a start - to know what it means; its particle trinity/ that has oceans cleaving to the tilted earth resisting the moon's recurrent invite;/ miraculous photosynthesis, which is bodiless, yet we grope about for its photon torso"
  • "With a fast enough machine, we could decode the daisy chain in calculus, Objective-C,/ transcendental equations. Would the parts of its sum be atoms or litanies?"

There are some forms - "We are experiencing delay" is a villanelle, "God Always Geometrises" has an abba rhyme scheme, and there are haikus.

"Atmospheric Physicist vs Poetic Atmosphericist" isn't worth it. I'm unconvinced by "Lucky" - how "Lucky" is repeated; how "conjunctivitis", "detach", eyelid" create a gratuitous thread. Towards the end of the book there are many poems I don't get - "Dublin Can Be Heaven", "Hames of a Haiku", "Altitude", "Watershed", etc pass me by. There's nothing trite however. The end of the final poem provides a sample -

We will not be put to work or put down or put out of our homes.
His pace quickens. The sharp inhale of breath: Enough. Was it?
Or: Enough's enough? I stay a foot behind. I time my step
to catch the sentence if it fails; to be in his shadow, if that's the safer place.

"Catechism", "Looting Roses", maybe, and "The Shell Man" are good. "Somatic Cells" uses Scrabble - I'd like the poem had I not written similar ones. I like "Two Roundlets" too, and "The Transit of Venus" which is in rhyming couplets.

Overall, I found much to interest and challenge me.

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