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, 15 April 2015

"The Returning Sky" by Peter Robinson (Shearsman, 2012)

90 pages of poetry (from Agenda, Cortland Review, The Dark Horse, London Magazine, Stand, TLS, Nth Position, etc.; written over 4 years) and 6 pages of notes!

I'm having trouble tuning into the aesthetic

  • The first poem, "Westwood Dust", is of a type I usually have trouble with, and this one's no exception. It's 4 5-lined stanzas followed by a 6-line stanza. The lines are fairly short (e.g. "With siren still sounding/ a paramedic fire truck/ drew up at the bus stop") though there's no sign of desperately trying to make the stanzas into rectangles. Each stanza is a sentence. To me, all the line-breaks are padding. The content? The narrator sees what might be a dead body on the pavement and decides to run away. Emergency services arrive. And that's about it really. The decoration is that the film which had just opened down the road was called "Stranger than Fiction", that the event happened in a street called Westwood, and that the narrator wondered whether the body had "gone west or westward". The notes provide the address of the cinema.
  • "Whiteknights Park" begins "Pigeons poised at grey pinnacles/ struck by summer sunlight/ ruffle feathers like ghosts in stone" (I like that final image) then later continues with "Then magpies soar up to survey/ traces of late revelries,/ a taxi waiting by the flagstaff/ for somebody's getaway" - easy going stuff. Do magpies soar? I think they can. The notes give some history of the place, saying that "Between 1798 and 1819 the park was the scene of extravagant parties hosted by the Fifth Duke of Malborough".
  • "Graffiti Service" starts with 4 lines of standard observation about graffiti. In the middle 4 lines, a one-off "You" suggests that the persona should take the graffiti as welcomes, so the persona "daub[s] the town with words once more". Is this some comment on the state of the UK literary scene by someone returning to it? It ends with 4 lines suggesting long-windedly that the institutional clearing of the graffiti is "like an artist preparing a ground" - a comparison that has promise. The notes say "I'm being gently mocked with a quotation from one of my own early poems" and quotes about 7 lines from his earlier books! (Ian Brinton describes this as "wry humour")
  • "In the Playground" is 12 lines long. It starts by using 2 common figures of speech, but in the end it's the button and thread rather than the dawn which are real (though they may be in the playground at dawn) - "Dawn comes, bright as a button/ hanging by a thread/ on the coat front of a waif-faced girl". Her knees are "blue from the swimming pool" (which I don't get). She has the "quick eyes/ of a bird in flight above an airport runway;/ ... they glance off mine with that look of defiant/ indifferent daylight", the final image (which I don't get) returning us to the initial dawn I suppose. Unless Dawn is the girl's name.

"Epigrams of Summer" has 18 sections, each with 2 stanzas of 4 lines. 2 coots have built a nest on a shopping trolley using plastic litter. The 2nd stanza is "While mother coot is sitting pretty/ in shallows and her found-art splendour,/ me, I find a theme from whatever/ happens to be happening ...", which I suppose serves as an introduction to the rest of the poem. There's some neat observation, imagery and reflection - e.g.

Great flocks of migrant geese
have paused to pick at grass
like golf officials for a ball.
The mothers feed them breadcrumbs.

Beaks crowd round the toddlers.
Their shrieks fade towards a sky
from whence the geese had come
as if to entertain us all.

but one would expect a 144-line poem to have at least a few good bits.

I soon got the feeling that if I was going to like a poem I'd like some of the parts despite the whole, or the whole despite some of the parts, and that I shouldn't take the notes too seriously - they're informative in the sense that they translate epigraphs, give the source of some allusions, and locate the inspiration for some of the pieces. I liked "Huntley & Palmers", "Double Portrait", "Life in Glimpses", etc..

Some poems use patterning. "Rückenfiguren" has a lot of end-rhyme, though it doesn't follow a repeated pattern. "To the Quick" is 3 4-lined aabb verses. The verses are numbered - I don't know why, it merely adds to the already evident padding. Several poems repeat (or nearly) the title or 1st line at (or near) the end (p.12, p.24, p.25, p.34, p.35, p.63, p.83)

Other reviews

  • Ian Brinton (blackbox manifold) (The poems in this volume are haunted with a sense of debt, a reflective voice calling back upon a world what can never be recovered ... Stillness resides within the frame as the erased past shadows forth into the stillness of the present)
  • Sue Hubbard (Poetry London) (This is a big book with copious end notes, which means that, at times, the poems feel too explained)


  1. Dear Tim

    Judging from the references to Huntley & Palmers (biscuit factory) and Whiteknights Park (university campus) I presume that the poet hails from Reading which is also my home town.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

    1. I think he's a Reading prof now, but he hasn't been there that long.