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, 29 March 2017

"The Great Animator" by Roy Marshall (Shoestring Press, 2017)

There are poems from many good paper magazines - Ambit, Magma, New Walk, Stand, The Rialto, etc - and also from some of the best online ones - Antiphon, The Compass, The High Window, etc. He's becoming a reliable performer at a high level.

The first section has many beasts, especially birds (though a persona admits s/he's not a twitcher) and fish. In the first poem, "The Horses", road-side horses are the one constant over the years as the persona gains children and loses distant friends/relatives - "Blossom is blown to blizzard". "Wing" (about looking at a detached bird's wing) begins with "If I'd looked it up later", then has "If I could have looked beyond the raw, torn joint" then ends with "But what it lacked was all I saw ... as rooks mocked ...", whose message I'm missing - maybe that there's beauty to be found in dead parts if one researches and isn't distracted by noisy, teasing life. "Oyster" is a new take on the "ship at Ground Zero" story. "Pity the angels" is a worthwhile addition to a sub-genre I'd thought already full ("A drone can recognize co-ordinates/ but not the family of the bride"). "Morocco" mentions the Algeciras to Tangier ferry (I still have my ticket from over 30 years ago, and wrote about the Fez-Tangiers train). It's one of the poems that seems to string together notes from a holiday or phase. With a few of these poems I worried that material was being spread rather thinly - notebooks being trawled for material. "Zoetrope" in particular takes a chance, given that its central analogy (train + trees = zoetrope) is fairly common in the poetry world. It's well executed all the same.

The 2nd section of the book, "Traces", has 12 poems in hospital settings, the persona first being staff then a visiting patient - "doctors hold X-rays to the sky. The day turns cold and blue. Bones rise to the surface of film the colour of canal water." (p.25). There are poems about life-and-death issues ("A fresh sheet/ on an empty bed/ after the curtain went back"), dealing with patients' relatives, nightshifts, etc. I imagine that there are more poems where these came from. Hospitals are a common setting for poems. What's interesting about these is that they're not all one-sided.

The 3rd section is opened by "The Great Animator", which features the wind - "Ballerina in her dress/ of smoke, now naked, come to pirouette/ among Styrofoam cups and dead cigarettes ... Meet me again on that ledge where / arms outstretched I leaned and was held.". It and "Scent" are essentially list poems - good ones.

Were "Nymphea Thermarum Stolen ...", "The Glass Delusion" (one of my favourites), "Risotto" and "Ammonite" written without line-breaks I doubt that anyone would have thought that regular spatial interruptions would improve them - quite the opposite, I'd say. But market forces are powerful, even when money's not the issue.

I've used the same raw material as "Waterloo Teeth" uses, but haven't made a whole poem out of it (I wrote "Women once roamed medieval battlefields turning the dead over/ looking for a husband's face/ while others carried buckets collecting teeth.// Now you dance round your handbag under glitterballs"). In general, I think I'm more of a hit-and-run writer than he is. I used to write extended metaphors like "Accidental Music" (e.g. "No more crosswords" - "Our words engage quite cleverly sometimes across the dark square room"), but gave them up. "In the big house" is interesting in the way it slides from one image to another. "Woodlouse" ends with "a sight he'd denied and shut/ away, much as he did/ with something he can't talk about:/ but he was a child then. and doesn't dwell on it" which seems too easy a way to add drama to a poem. "The Red Forest" is neat, contrasting radiotherapy with Chernobyl - "trees grow slow and slant. We too/ advance slowly, trying to hold on/ to the idea of your going". I like "Thaw" - I'm guessing identities here, but I'd say the persona and son leave his wife and her ill mother alone. Waiting outside in the snow, the son plays at being a super-hero while the man sees through the window the woman trying to tempt her mother with ice-cream.

I noticed something at his Leicester reading (it's online). Consider these extracts -

  • "Heron/ He's as unexpected/ as royalty"
  • "It is worth considering longevity/ before bringing home the tortoise who might/ out-live you, tender and hairless in its ceramic hull./ Picture him"
  • "the juvenile parrot in livid scarlet/ and green; imagine him faded as seafront paint"
  • "Caller/ ... a sparrow, concussed in the furrow/ of terracotta tiles.// He'd hit the window"

How come all these creatures are male? The birds' plumage might be a giveaway to a twitcher. I suppose calling them "it" sounds too harsh, especially if there's some identification between persona and beast, but "it" is used in some other pieces, and the tortoise in this extract begins as an "it".

On p.17 should "know the taking life is for the living to decide" be "know that taking life is for the living to decide"?

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