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, 19 March 2016

"Union" by Don Share (Eyewear, 2013)

Poems from AGNI, Harvard Review, etc. I don't get the first poem, "I have seen, my Celalba". The 2nd poem "Signals Over Hill" has commonplace phrases like "They lived on Linden Boulevard,/ which was not a boulevard,/ and had no lindens" and "views into other apartments/ like framed photos,/ with other people's cooking odors,/ and echoing hallway voices", ending with "his adult jokes bewildered me. and the garden flowers of memory closed .... each unaccented daisy the day's eye" which I don't understand.

"Dilemma" begins promisingly with "At Shiloh, creek water spills/ braided, dignified, full of memory,/ like old shape-note music". Later "Need sends me through unannealed wildernesses/ to one of the dolefullest spots of ground/ on the whole earth: Memphis./ Where the past still hurts, and gets sung about". It's chatty and descriptive with the odd twist or image as a knowing wink. And of course there are all those line-breaks lest we forget it's poetry. I don't get "Saviour". "Faithful" begins

Faithful in appearance but errant
in its innards, our house tocks and ticks
like an inherited clock whose hour-hand sticks.
Its moods, softly articulate,
irregular, punctuate the minutes
without object, as if to say,
Something about us isn't even us.
The cat is ill. Our fence, unmended, these days

I don't know quite how to deal with his. My naive, workshoppy tendency would lead me to wonder why the high register "errant in its innards" is used, and why there's an inversion of "tocks" and "ticks" (if for the sake of the rhyme-scheme then why is the ABBA CDCD scheme so rough? If there isn't a rhyme-scheme then why the inversion or the line-breaks?). A clock with a stuck hour-hand isn't faithful in appearance. Why "us" rather than "me"? And why do irregular, purposeless moods lead one to the penultimate line's interpretation? Is Frost being alluded to in the final line I've quoted? As with the question of whether the rhyme-scheme's deliberate, I find it hard to answer or to care.

In "For Laura" there's a swimming pool where "Sunshine forced the ripples/ to glow like bent halos,// and the black marker lines shivered/ like brain waves in their final cogitations". I can see the first image. The second feels rather awkward - what black marker lines? Do brain waves cogitate?

"Refrains" has a different rhyme-scheme each stanza, which is fun.

By now I'm reading as if the style is "Mock Casual" - a common enough style in the US especially (Mark Doty, etc), one that's convenient for the poet. In "Spiced" for example, there are metaphysical conceits that might have packed a sonnet. Here they sprawl - the narrator, after a separation, returns to a garden they shared - "I fell uprooted". Then "Things that we see as ornamental/ grow fundamental" and "everything varied is joined, strangely, underground./ After we separated, I noticed that pulled weeds/ sometimes re-root after a few rains/ if left uncollected on the ground, a kind of resurrection before death". The unoriginal imagery's diluted further in "Ending is a True Marriage" by the addition of white-space, e.g. - "Our separation/ brings spaciousness/ to my life.// I make time/ to stand alone/ in the garden".

I guess it's what you do with the clichés that matters. In "Old Highway 78" "This is a belt not of Bibles,/ but subsistence farms/ with propane tanks,/ spray-painted nameboards, and leaning// silos of soybeans ... vacant porch rockers/ sway idly in the Gulf wind ... successive road signs/ which have been ignored, so the skidmarks/ tell, except for target practice". As the narrator says, "even my wistfulness/ is mist".

"My Luck" begins "Today, just my luck,/ a storm washes the air and churns/ wind into my face/ as I approach once again the roseate/ eye of our great, stunning church". It's April, so there are "cruel old rains". The poem ends with "As I reach the sanctuary door,/ rain beads like a rosary in my hand". I bet it didn't.

In "Spiritual" a father-in-law works in the Firestone plant. The following sounds ponderous, even as prose - "When they closed the plant,/ those lean years spent for a mean wage/ ended with an obvious joke about the company slogan:/ "It's time to retire."".

"Pax Americana" ends with "The good old days are over,/ and peace is history;/ and that's why I left home// and that's why I have no home" which I rather like. "At Forrest Park" (whose alternate lines are gratuitously indented) includes "Your face is gilded with consternation,/ as if you were asking/ directions in your own hometown". I like the analogy but why bother with "own"? Why the elevated register of "gilded"?

"Union" is 10 pages long, but the lines are short and there's a blank line every two lines, more or less. I don't understand the layout. Here's the 5th section, without the white space and with punctuation - "The river is where time is illegible. The river rushes past without rushing past Memphis, where a drowned flag rises. Where America folds in on itself and against itself. Where the United States ends and begins. The Mississippi is a long American wound.". It's not bad, but the puffed up, strutting layout does it no favours. Here's the 8th section, 19 lines in the original! - "A tall reedy man fishes by the bridge. I find him there singing. Under the bridge farther along I hear more than his blues. I hear something scratching. A swarm of rats. Our rats. Confederates.". Again the bloat does the content a disservice. Alas, this type of bloat makes me mistrust the writer, and I begin to suspect the motives of even the stanzas I like. So when I later read "Beneath the river we see/ is the river we do not see// Drowned water" I'm cynical. I like the later "Now the river swells its wet lungs".

The final "Arch" poem is a loose villanelle.

I think I haven't been able to tune into an appropriate aesthetic. I can't distinguish between casual and sloppy content. The disciplined layouts reduce my trust in the content. I think short lines run a risk - if the content (especially ending) of a line can't cope with the extra attention that is focused upon it, the outcome's disappointing.

Other reviews

  • publishers weekly (Don Share's earnest, moving first volume, Union, represents the promising next stage in so-called Southern narrative poetry. Share writes clear, well-crafted page-long poems about romance, memory and separation)

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