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, 20 June 2015

"The sun-fish" by Eilean Ni Chuilleanain (Gallery Books, 2009)

Phrases like "Leave behind the places that you knew:/ All that you leave behind you will find once more" (p.9) are easily likeable. Poems like "The Polio Epidemic" make perfect sense but puzzle me as to their intent. "Come Back" is more straightforward - "Although there is no paper yet, no ink/ There is already the hand/ That moves ... If the railway does not exist yet, there is, even/ Now, a nostril to recognize/ The smells of fatigue and arrival ... If the telephone has not been invented/ By anyone, still the woman in the scratchy shirt ... is sending impulses that sound and stop and ask/ Again and again for help". Elsewhere the imagery can be quite relaxed, as in

The ferry slips like chalk
Leaving its friable mark, like ice gliding
On a marble counter, its shadow melting in the light

Does ice (or even chalk) really leave a friable mark? I find the following hard to parse, legibility not helped by the Caps and line-breaks

The midge's glassed patch, the lark's foothold
Of raised bog, brims, leaks, tilts,
Hithering the trickles merge
In this frosted rush of statis.

The following description of (I presume) a graveyard works well enough. I like the "frogmarch" image

The ranked evergreens
Frogmarch a slim path;
This enclosure, the blocked tombs,
The crosses, repeat, pinning down

Their instant of focus,
Shuffle the pack, the blades
Of darkness, absence. Peace,
And this is where you were taken.

Here the stretch between vehicle and tenor is more ambitious. Pun on "pitch"?

As every new day waking finds its pitch
Selecting a fresh angle, so the sun
Hangs down its veils, so the old verbs
Change their invocation and their mood.

The final poem, "The Copious Dark", begins and ends like this

She used to love the darkness
The blighted
Shuttered doors in the wall are too many to scan -
As many as the horses in the royal stable, as the lighted
Candles in the grand procession? Who can explain
Why the wasps are asleep in the dark in their numbered holes
And the lights shine all night in the hospital corridors?

which I like the sound of. The book contains quotable lines, but those lines aren't often in the poems that I think I understand as a whole. In "The Witch in the Wardrobe" "silk scarves/ Came flying at her face like a car wash" and "a cashmere sleeve whispered, probing her ear,/ 'We were here all along like an engine idling". But "when she closed her eyes to feel it closer … The bridge was gone and beyond it/ She could no longer see/ Her body". I'm unsure how the witch, the sensations, and her body are all being related, and why closing eyes destroys the bridge that had so suddenly appeared. The poem after that has more about bridges - "A Bridge Between Two Counties" ends "I watched the woman,/ Memory holding the bridge in its place,/ Until the child could reach the far side".

The forms are loose. For example, "The Cold" is in triplets, the endings being "road / door / bone", "crime / time / try","aware / framed / phrase", etc Throughout the book there's lots of water, blades and gates. "In the Mountains" is the poem I like best.

Other reviews

  • Sean O'Brien (Guardian) (it might be said that she is a storyteller before she is a moralist, and one who both invites and challenges the reader to accept the primacy of imaginative life)
  • Matthew Sweeney (Southword) (monks, brothers, shrines, litanies, and of course nuns ... all make an appearance in this new collection)

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