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, 9 November 2016

"My family and other superheroes" by Jonathan Edwards (Seren, 2014)

Poems from Poetry Review, Rialto, etc. I like many of the poems in the first section (2 of them are online in the Guardian), the ones that re-imagine family members in strange situations, or use analogies without losing the individuality of the subject. An example is How to renovate a Morris Minor, the web page showing the development of the poem, though I prefer "The Death of Doc Emmett Brown ..." (a villanelle) and "My family in a human pyramid". "Building my Grandfather" begins with "He comes flat-pack", the components being memories and more.

Consider this though, from p.10, about Evel Knievel - "I close my eyes, then open them: is this what heaven feels like, some motorcycle Liberace overhead, wheels resting on air? Are these flashes from 60,000 cameras the blinding light coma survivors speak of?" I like it, but why is this spread over 6 lines? More puzzlingly still, why is it interrupted by 2 stanza-breaks? Market forces seem to have run amok. It's poetic, just as the Venus de Milo is poetic, but the Venus de Milo isn't a poem because it's the wrong medium. I'm not convinced that I'd classify these texts as poems - they're hewn from another medium. They're not made of letters or sounds. The language is transparent - except of course for the layout.

In section 2 the poems often imagine the lives of familiar faces passed by each day, and/or describe Welsh settings. The first poem, "Anatomy", uses the idea of "Building my Grandfather", this time the narrator building him/herself from parts of Wales and the Welsh - "These eyes have been underground for generations; now they're adjusting to the light". "Collie Row" is a little like Terry Street. "In John F. Kennedy International Airport" is a sestina that works pretty well.

Section 3 involves couples (pre-, during and post-). I found the imagery more mixed here -

  • "The Doll" has "dawn painted its watercolour, made a sundial of each street light". The first analogy is hackneyed (the kind of thing the narrator might say), but the second isn't.
  • "Jack-in-the-Box" begins with "Just when I think I've forgotten you, they play that song on the radio, or, sorting through junk, I come across photos", which isn't inspiring, but I like the final stanza.
  • "The Bloke in the Coffee Shop" is 5 pages long, and I don't know why. It includes "The Bloke in the Coffee Shop is a bloke and where he is is yes, you know, a coffee shop" ... "Meanwhile, the lady walking down the street is in the street and walking ... Her high heels make the noise they make" ... "Listen, that's his best brogues he put on just for her this morning, after his best socks (he finds that order sensible), making the noise they made" ... "Meanwhile, the lady walking down the street is in the street and walking "

Section 4 has portrayals, often of animals ...

  • He floats on his back, lying on the hammock of his body ("Seal")
  • A little girl says, Dad, that island's moving ("The Hippo"). The same poem has giraffes, stupid as window cleaners, the lions, sunshine with teeth
  • Who spray-painted the swans? ("Flamingo")

... or of types

  • they applaud their own performance to keep warm ("Bouncers")
  • her habit what it was always wanting to become: a slipstream ("Nun on a bicycle")
  • she is the Queen of mug rings ... she sweeps the world before her ("Starbucks Name Tag Says Rhian")

The poems in this section are mostly as light as they look, but no less pleasant for all that. "The Performance" in particular has the pacing and cadences of short prose.

Other reviews

  • girlwithherheadinabook (The title is a clear reference to Gerald Durrell’s famous My Family And Other Animals, a hilarious account of a childhood spent exploring the wildlife of Corfu)
  • Alex Henry (Edward’s greatest achievement is imbuing poems of not insignificant thematic depth with an attractive levity, avoiding entirely the trappings of much ambitious poetry which is often painfully serious. This is undoubtedly ambitious stuff)

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