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, 25 June 2016

"The Exhibit" by Michael Brown (SilverWood Books, 2014)

The 2 pages of acknowledgements mention no literature magazines, but there's more to life than magazines. In the blurb and elsewhere it says that "He completed The Exhibit at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge Summer 2014, and that Pembroke Poetry Society, University of Cambridge edited a number of the poems. ... He divides his time between poetry and teaching English ... I would like to thank my fellow students". Sounds serious. I looked him up. He doesn't seem to be an Oxbridge student who now teaches literature, but he never said it was. He's a "Cambridge tour guide who teaches English as a foreign language". He attended a Creative Writing course at Pembroke College co-convened by the National Academy of Writing. I'm glad that's cleared up.

Andrew McMillan's acclaimed "Physical" lacked punctuation. So does this book, mostly. That, along with telegramese and frequent line-breaks, gives the text rather an ersatz quality. Sometimes it's obvious how to convert the text to conventional prose (in which case I don't see the point of the omissions), sometimes a little more effort is needed. For me, this effort detracts from the aesthetic experience, and if the standardized version isn't poetry, the broken version is even less so. Such dislocation is sometimes used by poets to make the reader more actively construct meaning, or as a way to more accurately capture their pre-verbal train of thought, or to induce uncertainty - the reader doesn't know whether a line continues the narrative of the preceding one, is part of a list, or is an interjection from another point-of-view. It's such an easy device to employ that it's easily abused - why make it hard to understand something that's simple? Why try to make the text look so "poetic"? Does it work in this case? Decide for yourself. Here are some examples, beginning with the start of "Dead days off"

Quarrymen put down shovels
no graves dug today
Crypt is closed
turn out the tomb
silent cemetery

In "Honesty" there's

In a bath

Water is clear

Or how about this?

Cambridge Pace

Mark your arrival
bicycle bell
student crime
library fine


Strawberry Fair

everyone is so fruity
colourful characters
we won't be contained by jars
though some wear lids for hats

Compare the latter with "We're all so fruity - colourful characters who won't be contained by jars though some of us wear lids for hats".

Does the first stanza of "Bring me Sunflowers" contain a typo?

Wake up to sunrise
you put me in a vase
your my water

"Cinema Screen" has some punctuation. Here's its end, which has a neat-enough twist

Screen is a chapel
descends into darkness, worship

into the movies
we become our own stars

There are several allusions to suicide - p.18, 22, 24, 25. "I'll be Happy Tomorrow" is just a title - there's no poem. There are celebratory and issue-driven poems too, and it's in those that the originality most often flags. "The Wall" ends with "Walls of the most dangerous kind/ are the ones we put up inside our minds". Poems like "Packing", "Petals", "Last day at work", "Road to Love", and "Fireworks" use old imagery to tackle old subjects. "The Sea Dreaming" has good lines ("The sky coughs with birds") along with old lines like "The moon is a pearl/ in the oyster of darkness". "Wax" has its moments. "Bright spot of the hibiscus flower" was perhaps my favourite poem.

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