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, 30 January 2016

"Talking Dead" by Neil Rollinson (Cape, 2015)

Poems from Magma, Manchester Review, Poetry, Poetry Review, etc. The book was short-listed in the Costa.

"Ode to a Magnolia Tree" is over 2 pages long, the longest line being "shivering in the cold". It begins "Impatient/ as always,/ you blossom/ in the cold/ March air,/ even before/ your leaves/ have set", which is fair enough, but not worth 8 lines. Later there's "You glow/ in the dusk,/ your petals/ like lanterns,/ lighting/ the garden wall,/ eccentric, ornate/ as an art-nouveau/ chandelier" whose content I like, and the ending is good enough too, content-wise - "The pavements/ are strewn/ with flotillas/ of little ivory/ rowing boats/ as if some/ ocean liner/ had just/ gone down/ with all hands/ lost", but those line-breaks raise suspicions.

The stepped verses of "Picnic" also raise suspicions. The poem works though, as does "Talking Dead - blackbird". "Ode to a piss" is another long thin poem. It's thin in content too - "It gushes/ out of you,/ frothing/ against the stone,/ in full view/ of the CCTV". I don't see the point of "In the LRB Bookshop" - it's quite the opposite of "Hilarious, watchful, profound and sharp" (Padel's back-cover praise).

"The Storm" effectively describes a passing storm. I liked the fast-moving "X-Ray Specs". "The Coffee Variations" is short-lined and short of material (parts i, v especially weak). "The Tzarina" is weak. "Foal" about a new-born foal fails to evoke wonder though it tries, beginning "Where has he come from?/ Through what vast emptiness/ has he travelled", ending as badly with "he clears his throat and whinnies,/ and what he means we cannot know;/ it could be the answer to everything,/ or maybe it's simply - look, I'm a horse, the air is sweet, and the grass is good". Maybe the horse is Jesus. "Starling" fails too, again disabusing us of an anthropomorphism that wasn't there in the first place.

Several poems involve dramatic scenes (scattered carcass in "Chesed Shel Emet"; defibrillator usage on Clapham Junction in "Feathers" (which I liked); the PoV of a guillotined head in "National Razor"; PoV of someone shot through the head in "Talking Dead - Head-shot"). In general I prefer those. My guess is that I'd prefer the original pamphlet to this bloated book.

Other reviews

  • Jade Craddock (The collection’s title inevitably underlines the significance of death, specifically voiced in the eponymous series of poems Talking Dead which are spaced throughout the book. This decision to split up the sequence, which was published elsewhere as a single cumulative entity, sums up the simple effectiveness of Rollinson’s poetry)
  • Nathan Ellis (London Magazine) (The line between elevating the mundane and descending into the quotidian is a fine one ... So, it is perhaps to be expected that Rollinson’s collection falls on both sides of this difficult line: there are both wildly successful and bewilderingly mind-numbing poems to be found within his pages, but there is also an overarching sensuality that is compelling. ... ventriloquized voices often seriocomically describing their own deaths to the reader. This form allows for Rollinson to revel in a sensuality and perversion that seem his hallmarks, focusing and refocusing on the minutiae of the experience and often deliberately pressing the poetry into prosaic listing, giving a tragic sense of the bathos of a talking corpse. This is smart and complex writing ... The Coffee Variations ... is a particularly ham-fisted poem which never really subverts its banal and bourgeois archness. So too does ‘Ode to a Piss’ do nothing to assuage its title’s lack of deftness)
  • Simon Savidge (Talking Dead is an interesting collection because at its heart, even when it is about death, this is a book about living and celebrating all the moments you are alive be they the extraordinary or the ordinary.)

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