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, 3 October 2015

"Fireflies" by Frank Ormsby (Carcanet, 2009)

Another poet who's unknown to me. He's appeared in many USA and Irish magazines and books. As well as fireflies there's a lot of snow and blackbirds - "Small World" begins "The field full of snow/ so much a field full of snow/ it needs a blackbird". The 5-7-5 syllabic pattern's no accident. The start of "One Looks at One" also has a ghost of form -

She steps from behind a tombstone,
is delicately there,
as though shaped from those sad poems
about dead deer.
I'd like her to stand for the soul,
or forgetful beauty,
or whatever lies without fear,

There's also a knowing use of "soul", "beauty", etc. That's not his only style. Here's the start of "New World"

As is only natural, you drift to sleep
in the Museum of Natural History,
snore in your buggy under the primate tree,
the evolutionary tree of fishes,
as one exhausted after a long journey

The unpressurised language ("natural ... sleep ... Natural ... snore ... tree ... tree") leaves a child at the end of its long evolutionary journey. The poet has a nice turn of phrase -

  • "Right away everything subverts/ the snow's ambition/ to be a deathmask." (p.18)
  • "You will learn to catch fireflies./ In your cupped hands/ they will beat and beat/ like little hearts of darkness./ You will free them and give chase/ to the one of your choice./ You will follow its lead/ into the whole world of fireflies." (p.28)

though those line-breaks that can be ignored when the content's good tend to backfire when the content sags - passages like "No doubt you think us/ melancholy as moles/ in a hamlet where half/ the suburbs are cemeteries./ Not so." (p.16) and poems like "from City Journal" and "Small World" spread their ideas thinly across many short lines.

Two of his poems are based on ideas that appeal enough for me to have to make notes about them in case I re-use the ideas

  • "Smiling Foetus" - "those fifty-or-so tiny muscles set in gear, we hope for a lifetime ... Perhaps he has learned, besides, that the womb is a bouncy castle, the umbilical cord a bungee jumper's dream ... Nothing, as yet, to wipe the smile from his face ... May he die laughing"
  • "The Gate" - "There's a gate in the middle of the field ... We swing on the thought of a gate in the middle of a field,/ where it has no business, long after the gate has gone"

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