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, 18 May 2016

"Winter lines" by Daniel Healy (Cinnamon Press, 2008)

Poems from Envoi, Orbis, Other Poetry, The Rialto, Seam, etc.

Only 2 poems have more than 50 words. Many are 6 short lines or less. Resonant fragments or lacking ambition? Economic or short-changed? "Coast Line" (incidentally, why not "Coastline"?) is 5 stanzas each of 2 lines. The longest line is 4 words long. I can't see why its first three words "It had seemed" deserve a line all to themselves. I can't see why

It had seemed
out of place

deserves a stanza. The strategy seems as self-defeating as putting the text in bold or upper-case would be; a hammy trick to make me think it's important, that it's poetry. Maybe it is, but why not use a prose layout? To me, short poems don't come with a guarantee that they'll be any more concise than prose. Short lines, if anything, make me think of flabbiness rather than precision. Ian Hamilton could maybe get away with it, but "less is more" has to be earned - there's more to it than not writing much. "Yesterday" begins not with "Thinking about our conversation, drinking tea, you said that life was lived out of context" but

about our conversation,
drinking tea,
you said that life
was lived out of context


The uniformity of layout's accompanied by a tonal uniformity (clipped and restrained; no humour). There are a few haiku, and the discipline of haiku permeates the book - repeated, re-arranged images of place and time followed by a response. The beginnings mostly belong to a restricted palette of times, places and actions. Here are some examples -

  • Time - "Morning", "Already autumn", "The morning", "at dusk", "After the storm", "A cold morning", "Winter", "The early morning", "This morning", "at dusk", "After the snow"
  • Place - "In a café", "In the park", "In the corner", "In the near dark", "In the afternoon", "On the train", "In the shadows", "In the park"
  • Action - "Thinking", "Shaving", "While walking", "Watching", "Watching", "Watching", "Driving", "Passing", "Leaving", "Out walking", "Watching"

The repetition of first words isn't a coincidence. Many words are repeated. Here's a list of page numbers where some common words occur.

  • "snow" - 44, 45, 47, 52, 54, 55, 56, 59, 62
  • "rain" - 12, 15, 17, 18, 20, 23, 26, 27, 32, 35, 36, 43, 49, 57, 58, 60, 62
  • "sky" - 16, 21, 35, 38, 41, 42, 45, 49, 60
  • "window" - 15, 34, 36, 37, 38, 41, 43, 49, 52, 59
  • "ripples" - 34, 45, 46, 50, 57

There are conceptual repetitions too - many "Before", "Beyond", and "After" connectives; the idea of lines in snow and the sky. A tightly integrated, thematically focused collection? Maybe, but for me, the effects are blunted through over-use. "Cold Morning" isn't the only poem that seems to consist solely of ideas repeated from other poems.

Some poems sound like punch-lines. "Fragment" could be the start or ending of a poem. "Image" is too tiny. "Detail" would fit into a good short story without changing a word. Even as a short piece, I think it's too small. I think Lydia Davis has moved the goalposts regarding short texts. In a prose format (which she uses) several pieces like this could be fitted onto a page. Calling something poetry and piling on line-breaks shouldn't be an excuse for producing 20% of what a prose writer produces for the same price. And a prose writer wouldn't produce phrases like "the pale empty colour of morning" (p.40).

In "At Evening" the capitalisation and punctuation's absent, and in several other poems the punctuation's minimal. It could retrospectively be put in by the reader, but first-time readers may well need to backtrack, especially with "At Evening", which isn't of course a problem. It's probably a deliberate tactic because some other poems use semi-colons, etc.

The poems in isolation are preferable to a collection of them. I like "Fault-line", "Leaving", "At the bedside", and especially "Threads".

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