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.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

"No Theory of Everything" by Martin Zarrop (Cinnamon, 2015)

Winner of Cinnamon's pamphlet award.

The first 2 poems have punning titles - "Fault Lines" has lines about faults, and "Cold Snap" is about a photo. Some poems pun more extensively - "Dry Run", set on a beach, has science puns and allusions - "a chamber of clouds ... a wave of probability collapses onto an uncertain shore ... current's surge". The science terms sound like name-dropping - what purpose do they serve? Is the idea that the observers try but fail to use science in the situation as a rehearsal for understanding something else? When "the moon drags horses, kicking onto a fractured beach", I presume the horses are the wave crests, but aren't they a consequence of wind rather than tide? And why "fractured"? Why not "fractal"? "Ladies Bowls" ends with puns whose purpose is clearer -

Beaks probe the cracks for signs of sustenance.
Two jackdaws watch, recalculate trajectories
as women take their turns to squint at jacks,
go through the motions, roll away the years.

I like "Dung Beetle", "Shoes" and "Bitterness". "Sign Language" and "Ritual" are tidy, though minor. I find "Hiroshima", "Sign Language" and "Coats" too minor (tidy, restrained, show-not-tell prose) though I can see how others might have different opinions. On her blog, Kim Moore writes that "Coats" "is a poem whose emotional heart is driven as much by what isn’t said than what is said ... The poem is full of specific place names – Albert Square, the Exchange stalls, Cross Street but for all its specificity, it is also very mysterious ... The last line, the idea of running out of evenings is unbearably sad and beautifully understated". Well maybe she's right though the couple cross Cross Street where one of them becomes "angry". When I ponder over the missing parts of other poems, I'm sometimes puzzled rather than overwhelmed. For instance, "Göttedämmerung" begins with

You have only to whisper: pi
and I can calculate the volume
of the known universe
to the precision of one atom.

I bet "I" can't do that calculation, so why is the claim made - delusions of Wagnerian grandeur? Why did you "whisper"? And who is "you" anyway?

The last few poems end with the idea that self-delusion might be a viable survival strategy, even for someone with a faith in the truth - adults pretend that the coffin maker's not there (p.28); "dreaming that ... the earth is flat and Icarus flew" (p.29); "you will laugh and round the fire savour every lie" (p.30); "The multiverse slides through his upturned hands. Anything is possible" (p.31).

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