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, 21 October 2015

"The Art of Falling" by Kim Moore (Seren, 2015)

Poems from the TLS, Poetry Review, Poetry London, etc. Some of these poems are almost the opposite of what I like. And yet, others strike home. Perhaps they're written for a range of reader-types. At least there's much to engage with.

Section I begins with "And the Soul". Why risk putting a poem like that first? Matters don't improved for a while. Are lists a form or a lack of form? Whatever, there are many of them. Then there are pieces like "Hartley Street Spiritualist Church" which could be more concisely rendered in prose. "Tuesday at Weatherspoons" ends well, but putters until then. I liked "That Summer" though I'm already up to p.25. The first section ends with the title poem - another list poem which brainstorms from the seed of a single word without entirely avoiding predictability. I like it.

Section II ("How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping") begins with "In That Year" whose first 7 couplets begin with "And in that year". The 8th and final couplet reinforces the repetition with "And then that year lay down like a path/ and I walked it, I walked it, I walk it.". I get it, I get it, I get it. I like the end of "Body, Remember", "He was the Forgotten Thing" and the end of "When I Was a Think With Feathers". Oh dear, "The Knowing" is formatted as prose, interrupted by "/" signs. "Your Hands" is in couplets - why not prose interrupted by "/" signs? Why not freer verse? Sadly, I can't think of an answer to these questions that the poems needlessly provoke. "Encounter" effectively conveys the visceral reaction when one unexpectedly sees an ex then realises it's not them after all. But why on earth is it laid out as couplets? "On Eyes", like the title poem, looks as if it's a workshop brainstorm starting from a single word, this time with interleaved threads. I like the "How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping" sestina; the keywords "stone", "it", "asked", "moon", "dark", "bird" offer the chance to repeat yet again, this time however with more purpose and variety. I quite like "The World's Smallest Man" too.

Section III is untitled. It begins with "Red Man's Way" which is useful in a diagnostic way. It's in couplets where lines are all nearly the same length. I wonder why. I suppose it makes the text look more poetical. There are ornamentally poetic metaphors/similes ("boats drowning in sand", "the wind likes to run its hands over and over the land"), evocative subject matter ("channel with the tide out", "lone crow") and repetition ("as if" 4 times). There's a poetic, mid-action start - "When I finally get here", a non-narrative continuation and a poetic, open ending - "the bank covers itself// with grass, and last summer, for the first time,/ ox-eye daises, tall as your knees and fearless" (in an I-obsessed poem, this late-appearing "your" may be significant, or may merely mean "one's") . The imagery uses hands, the "I" of the poem wanting to erase unnatural interference while anthropomorphizing nature's control -

  • "as if someone has drawn a finger// across the mud"
  • "as if I could put my hand up and stop the noise of traffic"
  • "... or pinch out the lights from the shipyard with my finger and thumb"
  • "the wind likes to run its hands over and over the land"

All in all, one might think, that's a lot of poetic effect packed into these 20 lines. I'm not keen on p.52-5. "The Dead Tree" (which I like) has "In winter, in the fog,/ sheep lie on the road for warmth/ until the car is close enough/ to breathe on them/ and then they straighten their legs/ and clatter away like coat hangers" and other phrases that might benefit from being in a prose setting. p.58 sounds workshoppy. Oh dear, oh dear, "Some People" has in-line spaces instead of "/" signs instead of line-breaks. I wondered when that would happen. The content's weak too, causing me to doubt some of the other poems. I liked "How the Stones Fell" for the same reason I liked the sestina. Fed up with repeating "Give her strength" 6 times, "A Room of One's Own" switches to repeating "I'm biting my lip". The poems on p.63-9 are weak.

I'm all for artifice, but I'm not sure here that the poet's sufficiently in control of it, or employs sufficient variation. It's not that repetition's bad per se, but when a poem's not working for me, repetition's an easy thing to blame. It's like when a lecturer keeps repeating "Ummm" - in the end the audience learns to filter it out as long as the content's interesting enough. The repetition also means that trends displace narratives, and easy punchlines are eschewed for easy lists. The circular repetition of sestinas suits her emphasis on expanding the moment rather than recording chains of events. And I'm not saying that workshop exercises can't produce fine poems. The ones produced here are often good.

Other reviews

  • Sheenagh Pugh (uneven but with plenty of vim and interest in its language and concerns. ... The whole of the second section is powerful, ... there are certainly individual poems that fall below par, notably "Tuesday at Wetherspoons", ... But what worries me a little more is a rhetorical technique, ... anaphora ... about a third of the poems use this device ... But the main impression the collection left with me was of language used with considerable skill and power, and often also surprise.)
  • Matthew Stewart (Moore’s signature poetic technique is repetition. ... repetition rules for much of the book, creating the sensation of a relentless emotional thrust, charging onwards, seeking an authentic core.)
  • David Hart (Stride)

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