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, 27 April 2016

"Think of something else" by Eleanor J Vale (The Garlic Press, 2016)

Poems from Magma, Smiths Knoll, etc. Layouts are prose-like, free-form, in 3-line stanzas, visually sonnet-shaped, or 4 short, numbered sections. It's not clear to me what determines the choice of shape. Flow varies too, from fragments to the poems on pages 6, 8, 15, and 17 which comprise one sentence, with phrases linked by "and".

The pamphlet's title summarises a common trait - poems frequently begin by making readers think of something other than the main topic. Several of the poems have a punch-line that reveals the identity or tendency of the main character, or acceptance of the main character by others. Alternatively, poems gradually disclose their subject matter - dawning realisations, and things hinted at rather than said - muted epiphanies. In "Journey" for example the narrator's in a car, "like when he drove us to the beach", then there are more hints - "we were going to be late ... we were sticky and sweaty and all dressed up". Then at the end "when we drove past some workmen digging up the road/ one of them stopped, took off his hard hat, and bowed his head - / and he never even knew our Dad" - ah, so the poem concerns a father's final journey. As a ploy in individual poems it works well, though once I got into the habit of anticipating the ending, poems like "Surprized" and "Mesothelioma" lost their surprise, and hence part of their narrative tension.

Final lines may announce a sense of interaction between self and world. Here are the endings of 3 consecutive poems -

  • "And knows nothing in this world is really fixed"
  • "wanting to be at one with this land"
  • "sometimes we can see the stars"

As often, they denote a sudden intimacy or strong emotion. Here's how 3 other consecutive poems end -

  • "you kiss my neck"
  • "I touched it as if I could bless it and you flung it back into the sea"
  • "your hand finding mine in my pocket"

To make some of the final lines into punch-lines (which is tempting), the reader may need to make assumptions (e.g. about the narrator or the era). A case in point is "Down to earth", a sonnet-shaped piece where "we" left the family gathering at Xmas to look after the horses in the stable, then finally "we ... walked home in the dark, your hand finding mine in my pocket". It seems too inconsequential a poem until one concocts a context within which the final line has an impact.

"Ants" belongs to a short-prose category where many of my pieces belong - not quite an anecdote or essay. Before the various microtext categories emerged (or re-emerged) a few decades ago, these texts had to appear in the guise of poems in order to be published. Post-"Lydia Davis" they can now appear as prose. "Ants" could, without changing a word, be part of a story, and that's increasingly how I use such pieces. In the end, whether one categorises it as poetry or prose doesn't matter much. I think it works well.

My favourites are "The Place on the Hill" and "Ants". I like "Table" and "Think of something else" too.

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