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.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

"The Anatomy of Structures" by Rebecca Goss (Flambard, 2010)

In "Treasures" the persona's partner, having been redundant for months, starts hiding little things around the house. At the end "I still lift second-hand books from the washing,/ take soap bars from coat pockets,/ stroke the new white hairs on your head while you sleep.". It has the pacing and patterning of the Flash I try to write. I like it except for the layout. It's in 3-lined stanzas. Why put near-regular interruptions into a piece of Flash? Because other people do it? In "Treasures" it's relatively harmless - the content's good enough for the gaps to be excused. The trouble comes when the content fades away (which it did for me from p.24 for a few poems) and all that's left are the empty structures, the boxes of text. Once the structure foregrounds itself thus, it's only fair to give it more attention. The poet seems to care a lot about layouts but I have trouble discerning their purpose. The structures are in these main categories -

  • All stanzas have the same number of similarly-lengthed lines (a category that includes the several single stanza poems)
  • All stanzas except the last (which is one line short) have the same number of lines - pages 14, 15, 28, 32, 47, 49, 53, 60, 63. The last line is often the longest
  • All stanzas except the last (which has one extra) have the same number of lines - 39, 61
  • Near-regular - p.35 (lines-per-stanza 4, 5, 4, 3), p.46 (lines-per-stanza 4, 6, 4, 5), p.52 (lines-per-stanza 4, 9, 5). "Aeroplanes", which was a Bridport prize-winner, has 6 stanzas, all ending with full-stops and all having 5 lines except for the 5th, which has 4 lines including the 2 longest lines of the poem. If it mattered that so many of the stanzas had 5 lines, why the exception? Why fuss about organising into lines anyway? There are also poems where the lines-per-stanza variation follows a pattern - 4, 5, 5, 4 for example.
  • Shaped - p.65, p.68 (though arguably many of the other pieces are shaped - as boring rectangles)
  • p.56 is a sonnet

The events dealt with border on sensationalism - a pretty one-legged woman, a burglary with violence, a widow cutting up the shirt her husband died in, a lover seeing her partner's ex's stuff in the bathroom, 6 days after an operation, suicide, a couple splitting up, dying on a train, a child losing an arm in an accident, a son dying on a car, a mad mother having to be brought home, extensive burns, being sent the bones of a daughter who'd died on a bombed plane, a ten second orgasm, loss of virginity, father's ashes in a Tesco bag, father at kid's party admitting an affair, a bereaved person, dying brother, a one-night stand, repeated hospital visits, a decaying fox, being hit in the face by Grandpa, a dead man's possessions, a husband caught with another woman.

Such events are often mentioned in passing using language which is calm, plain, and at times rather too casual. I don't get "gasps coming rapidly from her open mouth" (p.26) - is that adverb a good idea? Is it petty to point out that gasps always come from mouths and that those mouths have to be open? Perhaps I'm missing the point about mouths - after all, on p.53 there's "The names of her nine siblings come fast and lucid // from her mouth".

The title poem (where body = building) works well enough - it begins with "Discover my signs of historical movement,/ scars faint bruises, a new freckle perhaps" and ends "So much extensive repair here, the slow digging out// of our histories, we have filled the cavities of loss/ and built this new structure of marriage".

Poems about scattering ashes had better be good. "Your Father's Ashes" isn't. I liked "The Escapologist". I didn't understand the title "Loco Motion". The poem includes "both of us/ naked / and screaming", a passage that confirms my worries about her line-breaks. After about p.50 the book fades except perhaps for "Pin-Up".

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