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, 10 February 2016

"The Book of Blood" by Vicki Feaver (Cape, 2006)

The poems (from LRB, Magma, New Yorker, Poetry Review, etc.) have various shapes. Usually I don't know why; the choice seems arbitrary. "Cinderella" for example would have been a more compact dramatic monologue set in prose. There are quite a few other one-idea, rather minor pieces. "The Sacrifice", "Medea's Little Brother" and especially "The Cyclist" seem over-literal to me. In contrast, "The Woman who talked to her teeth" is interestingly strange. There's a fair sprinkling of blood. Birds, feathers and wings get a good look in too.

The book begins with an "angel through history" poem, which I can follow. I struggled more with "Sloes", where He's in Paris - alone? - and she's with friends taking the kids to pick sloes. The sloes are described in 3 lines - "small bitter plums/ from the spiky twigs of the blackthorn" - as if we don't know what they are and can't look them up, so the details must somehow be significant. Her friends will use them to make gin for Xmas (they're prepared to make the most of the bitter lessons of life?). She can't think that far ahead or even of "the stallion, black as a sloe,/ galloping above her/ down a sloping field" which ends the poem. That final quote isn't elegant. Is the stallion galloping towards the wife? Does the stallion represent male desire? Why link the sloes and stallion? Why the sloe/sloping similarity? I'm puzzled too by the start of "The Trunk" - "Like the girl who curiosity/ unloosed all the world's ills/ from a box, I wanted to know// what Grandma kept in her trunk". Why not just "Like Pandora, I wanted to know ..."?

"Glow-worm" like some of the other poems is based on a single analogy. It begins - "Talking about the chemical changes/ that make a body in love shine ... you pick a grub from the earth". The lover-to-be says to the listening (female) narrator that the males fly and flash, but this is a wingless female, currently fasting. The poem ends "wordless/ in a flagrant and luminous bid/ to resist the pull to death, she lifts/ her shining green abdomen/ to signal yes yes yes".

In "The Bull" the narrator dreams that her male lover is cornered against a dry-stone wall by a bull with "testicles like a bag of stones". She pulls off her jumper (that the moon has dyed scarlet) to distract the bull into the river. The poem ends with the bull "emerging as a man/ in socks and pale shirt,/ putting on the doctor's dark suit/ that you wear as armour/ in the wards of bellowing dreams". In a previous poem, the narrator's partner was a doctor.

"Bats" came 2nd in the National Poetry Competition. It has a burst of imagery the like of which is absent from other poems - "In the day, you wouldn't know they were there, except for a smell, made up of bits of smells/ I thought I'd forgotten - a hamster cage,/ Grandma's fusty feather mattress,/ the iron reek of a birth room"

Other reviews

  • Sarah Crown (Feaver does not deal in spectacles; the scope of her poems lies in the density of their interiors, not their epic scale ... Sexuality, particularly of the liminal, hazardous kind, is omnipresent here. Lovers are frequently equated with animals)
  • Sean O'Brien (The Book of Blood is only her third book in a quarter of a century. ... Feaver's view of gender seems at times surprisingly traditional, yet at others it is unsparingly radical in its emphasis on the irresistible importance of pleasure and power and on their close cousinship with death.)
  • Helena Nelson (The verse forms, it seems to me, are not all equally successful. ... But there’s a lot of enjambment and sometimes I feel it a little mannered.)

No comments:

Post a Comment