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, 3 August 2016

"The Skin Diary" by Abegail Morley (Nine Arches Press, 2016)

Poems from Agenda, Iota, Magma, New Walk, Poetry Review, Stand, etc, mostly with 2, 3 or 4-lined rectangular stanzas, the final stanza often being irregular. "Love Child" is formatted like a Shakespearian sonnet.

The earlier poems deal with childhood, then move through relationships, infertility and coping with loss. Sometimes (as with "Summer" and "Presence") an early poem will foreshadow a later one. In the final poems, perhaps too much is made from anecdotes.

I liked the first poem, "Before you write off your imaginary sister", whilst being slightly suspicious of it, partly because "Losing Elena" is also about an invisible friend, and partly because other poems use a similar technical device - a list of negations. Compare this poem which has "remember how she didn't ... didn't ... how it didn't ... how water didn't ... how you didn't ... how she didn't ... how she didn't ... Before you know it, she's not at your wedding ..." to

  • "Childhood" (almost a companion piece to the above one, with an imaginary/real theme) has "She knows ... She knows ... it never knew ... never knew ... It didn't know ... pour tea from an imagined pot"
  • "Fish wife" has 3 stanzas each beginning "The woman who's not my mother".
  • "Presence" has "No one saw", "No one knew", "We didn't know", "No one heard", "you didn't know".

I also liked "If you stitch a woman", "The carrier bag", "The Skin Diary", "The Cabinet of Broken Hearts", "Foundling", and "Miracle" and most of the poems from p.44 about broken affairs and fertility except for the extended metaphors of p.46 (boats) and p.48 (body clock), "Post-" and "Achillea millefolium".

Throughout are scattered poems of interest. "Paddock Wood to Charing Cross" may not be a major poem, but it's a worthy addition. It's a mirror image of the poems that deal with a loved one's absence, the narrator imagining a lifetime's friendship with a stranger. In "The Bramble Hotel" the persona leaves the noisy house to hide away in brambles, though they hurt. "ordinary people/ say [fireflies] grow from glow-worms" but the narrator knows better - "there's no luminescence,/ just criss-crossing, a dot-to-dot drawing/ in red ink, linking one cut to another". "Love Child" is strange. Initially the persona stores a peeled, cellophaned potato in a fridge. It looks like a skull. She (I presume all the unidentified narrators are female) imagines having a fling with a grocer who she passes, fears he might open her fridge. The poem ends with "I know he'll fan out his fat hands, hold the hollows/ of the fontanelles, cradle it like a baby's head." it being unclear whether she imagines him holding her head or the potato.

Stitches, skulls and frost feature, as does glass in various forms, but I think water is the most frequently mentioned item. Of the first 9 poems for example, 7 mention water in the form of "bath", "river", rivulets", "tears", "water", "pools ... tides", and "rain". From p.41 I checked again, finding that water's mentioned in nearly every poem, and glass in every 5 or so. Natural cycles (day/night, tides, seasons) can't stay the progress of time, which is raced against in several of the poems. It's represented by egg-timers, sand, archives, and ticking bodies as well as the eponymous diary.

Other reviews

  • Matthew Stewart (its final poems will cling to the mind forever. They are a chronicle of survival amid excruciating mental and emotional pain)
  • londongrip (This tender and complex poem shows once again Morley’s dexterity in dealing with feelings via commonplace tangible objects.)
  • HighWindows (the work of a poet with a blistering imagination and deftness of linguistic touch)
  • Maria Isakova Bennett

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