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, 17 October 2015

"The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion" by Kei Miller (Carcanet, 2014)

Not my type of poetry - too much background static and surface clutter - but I can see that others far more experienced than I am might like it.

I don't understand the circumlocution or linebreaks of "Allow your knees/ and then your forehead an intimacy/ with stone" (p.9). The layout of "The Shrug of Jah" was sufficient forewarning of the quality of the poem. Ditto "xvii". I suggest that prospective buyers of this book look at those 2 poems first. "Hymn to the Birds" has bizarre layout that's by no means compensated for by the contents.

I preferred "On this island things fidget./ Even history." (p.15), "We speak to navigate ourselves/ away from dark corners and we become,/ each of us, cartographers" (p.45), "vii", "Distance" and (despite the unhelpful layout) "My Mother's Atlas of Dolls".

I almost preferred the notes for p.53 to the poem there.

Other reviews

  • Carrie Etter (Guardian) (Where the cartographer assumes that he can approach his work without bias, the rastaman expounds the inextricability of Jamaican history, place and people, an argument that the cartographer eventually concedes. ... The entire collection possesses that ease, its subject matter, wit and lyricism masterfully balanced to render a compelling whole and a rare accomplishment.)
  • Bethany Pope (Magma) (In a sense, the construction of [The Shrug of Jah] is a part of the subject. It seems careless, random, but subject and form can’t be separated in it any more than they can in the most rigorously structured sonnets. ... ‘The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion’ is interrupted by a series of incredibly complex poems (they reminded me of George Szirtes’s ‘Postcard’ series, found in Bad Machine) that contain at least three simultaneous levels of meaning. ... This is a subtle, complex book that rewards multiple readings. )
  • Dave Poems ( the book however, quickly complicates this initial binary by highlighting the rastaman’s academic credentials (‘a PhD (from Glasgow / no less)’) and having the cartographer integrate into the local spiritual community, and eventually begin the doomed quest of the book’s title. Their story ties together the book’s sundry anecdotes, histories, folk tales and observations (arguably it is secondary to the book’s broader concerns); its qualified movement from a priori theory to experience mirroring the book’s overarching narrative. ... The book’s dramatic arcs are well-judged and artfully positioned, and although one could argue that a book that is (easily) readable in an afternoon lacks weight, The Cartographer rewards close engagement and multiple readings.)
  • Valerie Duff (Critical Flame)
  • Gail Low (DURA) ( this collection moves liminally between states, things, borders and people. Moving, wry and wise in turns, and much more than the sum of its parts, with The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, one can’t help but fall in love with Miller’s poetry all over again.)

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