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, 3 June 2017

"Truffle Beds" by Katherine Pierpoint (Faber and Faber, 1995)

Poems from The New Yorker, The Rialto, etc. I'll focus on the imagery. The first poem, "The Twist in the River", has "If this place were a person, it would be making up a paper hat while humming ... And the river runs through its own fingers, careless". The water theme continues in "Going Swimmingly" where "you", the swimmer, is "Plaiting yourself into the water,/ Ploughing an intricate, soft turtle-track along the undersurface,/ Each stroke a silver link in the chain that melts behind you".

In "Steeplejack" a snail is Feeling everything with its moist eye-tips,/ Its shell a hardened whirlpool/ Of concentration". Later in the poem there's what could be another analogy for writing - "The job starts with/ The moment of looking./ Send your eye up the spire/ To hook to the top./ Lash your gaze to the weathercock's spurs/ And unreel a rope back to the brain./ Assess the sides for footholds./ Take only tools you trust ... Think flat, move one thought at a time./ Use your breathing like another limb."

Most of the pieces establish a setting before riffing into imagery. "Plumbline" is less clear, more concerned with pinning down a feeling than a place or moment - "This body of loved music leans close in, to breathe directly in your nostrils;/ A bullish mass, viewed from below, underlines the summer sky./ It unclasps a fluid pouch of a bassline". After some bovine imagery there's an anecdote about making perfect butter curls, then we're back to music and the sea. In contrast, "Beach Scene with Small Figures" is a picture - "Walking the easy, open beach,/ Through the coastline's gappy, disarming smile,/ Turning on the currents of an idling mind,/ Slow human flotsam, no hurry;"

In "Combustion Engine" I wonder whether the images obscure the effect. The next poem's bravely called "Answers on a Postcard", which is partly on the theme of migration instinct - "Each animal a gasping red-eyed sack, drunk on instinct,/ Slung over a set of four legs that, rocking, run and run and run/ To press the ancient, desert rock-hard, burning forehead against that soft horizon,/ Smooth and cool as a saint's ascending foot.". The metaphors and similes can become rather over-Martian though - "The tough oilsleek diving board stands dark as a pithead crane,/ A pointing steel gundog straining for the falling star./ Room for another flea on its back./ A long black tongue is ready for your feet" ("Diving Board").

Cherry-picking from other poems there's

  • "We look on [cats];/ and remain, like children on the stairs at a dinner party,/ Acknowledged by that other world,/ Yet uninvited" (p.35)
  • "The tracks tweeze the last thin train away,/ Wipe it on the rim, and lose it" (p.43)
  • "The water is to swimmer as a kiss/ Placed on a closed but moving eye./ And swimmer is to water/ As a ghost to a claiming room" (p.47)
  • "Nights are the breaths in an idiot's anecdote,/ Forgotten opening of doors between remembered rooms" (p.49).

What's impressive about the better poems in this book is that the imagery isn't tacked on - the poems are made of imagery, through-composed, with many long lines and full pages. Swimming is popular.

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