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, 30 March 2016

"Arc" by David Clarke (Nine Arches Press, 2015)

Poems from "Under the Radar", "New Walk", "Interpreter's House", "Antiphon", "Magma" etc. It's a thick book of formally varied, mostly long-lined poems some of which ("Sword-swallowing for beginners", "A Family Romance") I think I've seen and liked before.

The first poem, "Throw" is offered as a prelude, so I think it's fair to mine it for symbols. A throw can be an attempt, or one can throw a pot, or throw (i.e. deliberately lose) a game. Here the beginning is "I am the boy who threw the ball/ into summer's empty mouth/ then saw there was no void at all". The ball eclipsed the sun. Then at the end "I squinted to see where it would land,/ running forward with empty hands". So, aiming high, the narrator masked nature with play. In the end he only communicated with himself, but a self that's advancing to catch the past. Advancing where?

Perhaps the main route ahead is illustrated by two of the more typical poems - "Exodus" (9 3-lined stanzas) and "From Here" (5 4-lined stanzas). They both accumulate pathetic-fallacy detail, adding the odd emotional direction. The latter for example has description - "a lane that gestures weakly to hills ... while in the garden three plastic chairs,/ arranged to seat a council of summer's ghosts,/ fill up with lichen pools of shivering stuff./ Streetlights morse on-off as evening nears" - and mood - "I have an itch in my heart to be out of here" and "At the proper distance I might observe this place that mugs it up as fate, though some would call it a coward's choice". Both are using the surroundings as a platform for change.

The titles of the 4 subsections are perhaps signposts too -

  • "Epic Fail" - Bathos, the ambition of youth. Plato and cakes. Superman. Orpheus getting a coffee. Coping with insults. "Lyre" is interesting.
  • "Permanent Emergency" - Perhaps that's to be read more as "permanent emergence". The subtitle poem repeats "We find ourselves". A developmental phase. Moustaches. Revolution. Family trees.
  • "Arcadia" - "a vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature", according to Wikipedia. Travelling, being contented.
  • "From Here" - so, what next? More about homes and greenhouses. One poem's entitled "Domestic Gods" and "The Gloucestershire Echo" is "A cut-price oracle, succour to the outraged ... rammed into jacket pockets by scoundrels leaving public houses ... never complains of creases, crumbs, or unattributed stains ... A literary mayfly, transience is its element - who else expresses such conviction with oblivion at their back?". I like "than you expected"

The one-off pieces (and there are several) work well. I liked "A Journey" for example,

I've probably missed quite a lot of the formal patterning (syllabics aren't my forte for a start) but I noticed that "Reading Habits" is "abba", "Lenin at the Music Hall" is "aa", "Driving Back to Lincolnshire for a Funeral" is "abccba", the lines of "For Hanna on her 50th Birthday" have end-words that all start with "d" and have an "r", "Dear Superman" has a first verse with "ababbcbcc" end-rhymes (a pattern mirrored in the 2nd stanza) and that a similar idea is used in at least 2 other poems. There are sonnets too.

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