Poems from PN Review, Poetry London, Poetry Review, and from a prizewinning pamphlet published by Smith/Doorstep, etc.
With pieces like "Wasps" I feel I understand the intention of the piece as a whole. I can zoom in and feel I understand the details. Nothing is opaque. The trouble for me is that it adds up to nothing much, though it has ornamental sophistication. The extras hamper the transmission of what "meaning" there is, adding nothing except a whiff of poetism. Passages that as prose would be ok (though sprawly) are packaged into little boxes.
In "Opera of Yawns" the poet seems to have tried in vain to make the lines of the couplets the same length. People at desks set each other off yawning, and slump into a "pastiche of the Last Supper" (a neat idea) after which we get a list of characters - "Peter yawning his way through his crops of accusations while the circuit of the yawn has reached quiet Matthew, sad Thaddeus, Simon and the others". And so on.
"Spider-ballet" begins with "Lobotomised by boredom" then mentions activities that bored people do. Then "slowly, slowly, as though the dust of prison ennui can fertilise the growth of extra legs, start to climb the wall" - an image that does nothing for me. Nor are the earlier observations striking. And why "ballet"?
"Martianism" (set in a creative writing class) begins with
The exercise, they must grasp, is to see like a visitor|
on his first visit to the planet, bewildered
by the windy squeal of the telephone;
windows that flash and ride upon a man's nose, like heliographs;
time's vacuum throbbing on the wrist
Having read Raine's poem, I can manage this. Towards the end of the 25 line poem (which could easily have been a prose anecdote), "they" come up with an interesting analogy after which the people are "uncertain who visits, who is visited. We look at each other amazed." Again, I think I understand the plot. The middle of the poem sags, there's white-space padding, and the idea that the class en masse (rather than a specified individual or two) come up with an image sounds unrealistic - or worse.
"Art" has the unhelpful line-breaks that are a feature of this (and let's be fair, many another) book. I can't quite parse the first stanza, nor can I identify Feysal by his voice - a literate convict? a literary tutor? a convict channeled through the narrator? But in any case what does "they learned to think in tiers" mean? Maybe it's a pun on "tears" or an allusion to hierachical thinking, or the tiered seating of a lecture theatre. And how much art is really like a post-drug-induced attempt to express "something he couldn't quite put a finger on, sort of weird and childish", resembling in some way cave-art? The Renu voice in "Archia, Archia" is lost on me too.
In "Foot and mouth" why "seeking for a shoe" rather than "looking for a shoe" or "seeking a shoe"? "The Contagion" begins with
As if dumped into the cholera pits, the latest load|
of slaughtered beasts slides and shudders off
the back of the truck like a job-lot of soiled rugs,
skeins of old rope, old ruptured bagpipes
(good imagery) then black smoke "spreads out like a dusk of starlings" (not so good). The rest of the poem is dead weight. I don't understand how "Distilling" is supposed to work - the final 2 lines are "A brew so potent, the pressure forces off/ the stopper, like something coming alive". "Lines for the bird that flew into the prison" is a half-heartedly rhyming sonnet about a used idea - a bird stuck behind glass. I don't understand the purpose of its last line.
The following kind of compression is closer to what I can cope with - "Each thought of his is a hare, miles ahead,// which leaves behind the thought-pile/ of sky-cycling tortoises with names/ and addresses painted on their shells" (p.51), though still unresolvable.
Some sections are verbose for reasons I can't comprehend - a few extra words elsewhere would have been more useful
- "these two young men/ are forming between them/ a flying buttress, stone for stone, each one of which// presses against the next to hold the whole building up" (p.47)
- "Crowning the subtle camber like the dogmas/ of social control, the white line/ distinguishing the right from the left side of the road ... it is an offence,/ says the Traffic Act, section one-o-eight, to cross/ the double white line, where the line/ nearest you is solid" (p.52)
- "I felt my acts drawn larger, as if a pantograph// first set down the point that followed/ every crevice and outline of each act/ while the second point, as if instructed,/ enlarged it perhaps some twenty times:/ and the arms that linked the two pistoned back/ and plunged like mechanical elbows// on their swivelling rivets; so both continued/ moving as one, faithful to every detail/ the first discovered at the tip of its point// and the second merely reproduced" (p.65)
Perhaps he's a poet's poet - i.e. rather beyond me.
- Sarah Crown (Liardet's decision to create the sense of incarceration not through a focus on barriers but through an attenuated vision of liberty is particularly effective)