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, 12 September 2015

"Kith" by Jo Bell (Nine Arches Press, 2015)

Puffs from Daljit Nagra, Philip Gross and Carol Ann Duffy! There's a poem that came 3rd in the Bridport, and poems from Magma, Rialto, etc.

It begins interestingly with one of the more conceptual pieces, "Crates", which begins "Observe that when I speak of crates/ your mind supplies one straight away", then speculates about the types of crates before finishing with "Now, let us speak of love". That poem tempts the reader (me, anyway) to see some other poems as extended analogies too.

  • Titles can give the game away - for example, a poem that's all about snow and ends with "It ... sends them home/ ... more frightened than they can explain" is entitled "Like love"
  • "Lifted" begins "The land says - come uphill: and water says I will. But take it slow". It seems to be about a boat rising through a lock. But the poem continues "A workman's ask and nothing fancy -/ Will you? Here's the answer, engineered". The engineered answer (i.e. the metaphor) continues for a page (continuing from the earlier "Breaker's yard" poem maybe) before ending with "and water says: I will"
  • Even if in some poems the explicit comparison's suppressed, an analogy may lurk. "Tied Up" is about mooring overnight at "Tixall Wide", ending with "You don't need to travel far. You're always home./ There's comfort in the play of rope;/ slack and tight, there and back.", but it's tempting to read this as a poem about Self and its need not to be tied too tightly to the current situation.

The first stanza of "Enough deathbed talk:" ends with "Here and now" - the two main keywords of the book. "Mallaig" has "a populace/ who measure time as now or not at all" (p.45), which begins a sequence where lack of a fixed location and life's transience loom large - "Metalled roads, it knows,/ are just a phase we pass through now and then", (p.46); "Here, they say, and here/ we did what everybody did" (p.49); "This is us, this is. Still here" (p.50); "I'm entirely here ... Moment - you'll do" (p.52). Maximizing the Now is more prized than excavating memories.

The book moves loosely through phases. From poems about boating then about seizing the moment the subject turns, unsurprisingly, to sex and making love in strange places. Then there are poems about types of permanence, with a sprinkling of archeology and birds. Standing stones in these poems perhaps represent previous attempts to fix a location, but perhaps there's more to life than that - the "rooks over Avebury" didn't notice the stones below - "They flew, it seemed, without direction. But they flew" (the poet lives on a narrowboat).

As well as the extended analogies mentioned above, there are short analogies. I've doubts about the first of these examples below; the second is saved by its context -

  • "Snow ... stops the mouths of tell-tale lanes,/ stuffs a fist into the downfall pipes" (p.13)
  • "Water rushes in like fools" (p.36)
  • "the squat twin churches of St Peter and St Andrew - / neighbourly as housewives at a lunchtime fence,/ respecters of a long-held boundary" (p.62)
  • "the houses stand like strangers at a bar" (p.65)

Overall, there's much that provides immediate pleasure, most of which gives pause for thought, though "Beginnings", "How to live on a narrow boat", "Worship" and "Excavation" don't have enough for me. "Small finds" may be self-referential - a neat albeit risky twist to an already decent poem. Throughout the book stanza lengths are far more regular than you'd expect, given the content and lack of regular sound/typographic effects.

Other reviews

  • Dave (accessibility and ease of communication are valuable and difficult skills; Kith, I think, argues that they are not an impediment to excellent poems)
  • Amy Wong
  • Jonathan Davidson (p.27)

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