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, 10 September 2016

"The Harbour Beyond the Movie" by Luke Kennard (Salt, 2007)

I've been meaning to catch up with this poet for years, this book in particular. Sometimes there are prose poems, with Russell Edson as a model, the twist being that there are line-breaks. There's use of familiar images - "When we finally broke down her door we found/ A white curtain flapping in the open window - / As if waving goodbye" (p.5). There are lists of surprise lines -

  • "We all laughed at the decomposing clown,/ But later shame sunk upon us/ And we got smashed on the balcony.// I had lost my left shoe in the blood./ The doyenne and her ten attachés/ Scattered blossom on the divans", p.8.
  • "A pig fell out of the sky./ It landed poorly, but was not wounded./ 'Tell me,' said the pig, 'of cruelty;/ Tell me of the sweet, stale smoke on your fingertips;/ Tell me of your tinnitus and your unsightly body hairs.'", p.10.
  • "Language is the butter/ You rub on a pirate" (p.16)

There are nonsense poems, and poems like "Gerald Variations" that have a structure.

Carrie Etter sometimes lists her favourite passages from books she's reading, which usefully provides examples of the poet's work. But sometimes, having had my appetite whetted by samples, I've been disappointed by the books, which don't transcend the sum of their parts. If poets are going to divide their words into titled sections (in a book - as opposed to a magazine submission - there's no great reason why they should), readers might reasonably expect sections to have some coherence. Kennard's notion of coherence varies. Occasionally there's a narrative thread. Sometimes juxtaposition is used (most commonly in the form of lists). There are somewhat uneasy combinations - "Popular Cults of the First Millennium" for example is a list of some one-liners along with 2 unrelated short narratives. When a poem starts as follows, there's no guarantee that the narrative will be continued.

Bedazzled Crow

The butterflies tick like metronomes over
The music college's dry ice sculpture:

Amorphous No.14. under which I am publicly
Clipping my nails on the off-beat

Why break the line where he does? Why end the poem where he does? If the poet didn't want us to worry about these questions he wouldn't have posed them (and indeed later in the book he doesn't). I like several of the book's sentences. I'm less sure than I like enough of any of the poems. "The Tree" fails. "Ear" and "Eyes" don't appeal, yet I like "Chorus". The longer pieces towards the end don't work for me.

I sympathize with his approach. Perhaps with Nobody's Perfect I edge towards his off-beat humorous style. I don't think I can emulate his version of surrealism, and I can't do nonsense.

Other reviews

  • Sarah Crown (True to the European surrealist tradition of Baudelaire and Breton, in whose footsteps he is clearly following, Kennard's collection proves that humour is a neglected but effective tool in the poet's arsenal.)
  • Tim Markey (Kennard’s collection is superb throughout and includes always ambitious and sometimes difficult poetry.)
  • Rob McKenzie (not only funny — it’s intelligent, satirical, and very well written into the bargain.)
  • Simon Turner
  • (Kennard's Python-esque poems often elaborate surreal narratives, given a deadpan concreteness by excessively mundane details)
  • Phil Brown (Kennard’s poetry has always hinged on the tension of self-aware, deconstructive wit undermining the desire to achieve emotional honesty. From his debut collection onwards, Kennard’s most entertaining works often read like an esoteric, polysyllabic riff on the antagonism between ventriloquist and dummy. His previous creations include the recurring character of ‘The Wolf’, the sadistic social worker in ‘The Murderer’)

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