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, 1 April 2017

"Swimming with Jellyfish" by Stuart Pickford (Smith Doorstop, 2016)

Poems from Rialto, Stand, The Poetry Review, etc.

I liked "Skin", about how growing older feels at various stages of life. "Lighthouse" is 28 lines. A father drops his son and struggling wife off for a guided walk. He picks them up at the other end, the final lines being "There, there he is/ sitting outside the pub, waving". Here's the penultimate stanza - "At the lighthouse, the guide laments/ how it's now obsolete - all shipping/ has sat nav - but the captains/ still look up to know it's there". I looked up "Sugar-stealers" - they're dandelion seeds. I like "Acts of Faith", its excessive control. "Dads at Weddings" could have been a lot worse. "After Closing Time" works for me. "Middle Age" has many funny (though not always surprising) lines. Strange that it's in triplets though - after all, "Tips" has 5-lined stanzas. "Showering on a campsite" brings back memories, though I prefer "The truth about gaffer tape" which doesn't. I like "Ana Mladic Remembers Her Father".

The "Storywaters" section of the book deals with a late pregnancy. Between holidays in exotic places there's a pregnancy test, ultra-sound, amniocentesis and planning how to turn the study into another bedroom. Then the birth of "it, foetus, he, our son". My least favourite section - too few surprises.

Section 3 has some "dads growing old" poems - "In six short months, I've become my dad" (p.63). In "Note" a father's married life is summarised, then at the end, after "He waited till the girls had gone, were doing nicely", he went to a cavern. "It was normal week day./ He left his briefcase at the top./ The police said he left no note.". "Notes for a Successful Affair" begins with "Delete your mobile's Call History" and ends with "It it wasn't for this affair, you'd have left/ your wife years ago. You're doing it for her". I liked "Swimming with Jellyfish" and "Blind". In "Diving on Tongue Reef", "Clown, angel, trumpet and butterfly all making sense with fish".

I've written several poems like these. The poems in this book may well be better than mine, but they'd have to be much better if I were going to be convinced. Quite a lot of the life experiences in this book are inevitable material for poems (or humourous articles). In my "Why I slept with a stranger" poem there's "because it's my way of coping with raw desires that I know upset you", etc. In my "Trying again" poem, kids are taken to an ultrasound scan (I think ultrasound scans - foetuses waving, or distant lands being viewed on a radar screen - are the shards and rainbows of parenthood poetry). In my stuff, sons begin to let me win at sports - middle age must have its funny side.

Other reviews

  • Wendy Klein (Pickford’s conversations between men ring with masculine authenticity. ... This is a poetry of family, memory and relationships: narrative poems delivered with warmth and style ... Stuart Pickford is a master of the light touch,)
  • Matthew Stewart (Rather than throwing all sorts of fireworks and overt technical virtuosity at his poems, Stuart Pickford specialises in the tightrope-walking art of simplicity.)

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