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 July 2017

"The Shuttered Eye" by Julia Copus (Bloodaxe, 1995)

I like quite a lot of this book. Typically all the lines of a poem are nearly the same length, and all the stanzas are the same length except for the final stanza, which is often a single line. This is symptomatic of pieces that nowadays might more naturally be prose. In a bio it says this book contains "the first of several ‘specular’ poems, a form she devised in which the second half of the poem is an exact mirror of the first". To me they're palindromes where the unit is the line (rather than the more common letter-unit palindromes). Word-unit palindromes exist too. Palindromes aren't necessarily poems.

There are many poems about parents and poems about Greek myths. Some poems use little imagery, other perhaps too much. I like the wit of "giant mosques// shoulder their way out of the mist at some/ unearthly hour just to be certain// of a place in the skyline" (p.46) but some of the other imagery sounds less original - something to give a poem a big finish.

  • "Orange" for example starts and ends thus - "He comes back to a house/ where the dark has splintered/ in through every crack; broken/ and entered. Inside, the clock ticks// loudly, like a heart in shock ... And by his head the black/ phone hangs silent like the// shell of a foetus on its coiled/ umbilicus, not moving".
  • "his breathing like the sound of the whole sea in one, small// uninhabited shell; like the sighing of steam which starts/ deep in the pistons, then shudders an engine into life" (end of "All these miles").
  • "Don't Talk to me about fate" starts with "There are still nights I wake into darkness,/ Dry-mouthed, unable to find myself.// And minutes later in the x-ray glare/ of the kitchen, over-exposed, the migraine-// hum of the fridge, hogging its cool dark/ like a secret". It ends with the more successful "What you hear is the flush of your own pulse./ Close by. Regular. Like a shuffling of cards." which returns to the title, though the pun on "flush" might be one twist too many.

"The Last Days of Proverbia" is light relief, prose - "all the eggs are gathered/ into a basket (several hatch/ even before they are counted) ... Reluctantly, we leave the dead/ digging graves for one another/ and set off in search of a fence". "Major Harwell Experiences Bliss" is a refreshing change, though I don't think it's much good. Nowadays it and "The Botanic artist" would surely be prose. The line-breaks fade into insignificance in pieces like "Digging the Pond" - "The colours have all/ faded but the image// remains clear: three thin/ shapeless bodies - me// in the middle with my hair/ blown across my eyes,// squinting. On either side/ my two brothers leaning// on spades and smiling,/ faces and hands// muddied with clay.".

In conclusion: a lot of words and many opportunities to go wrong, but she doesn't often. I wasn't keen on "Digging the Pond", "Homeopathy", "The Marriage", "The Sea-Polyp", "Cut", "Spring Bank Holiday". I liked "Song of the Clock Girl", "Bomb", "The Back Seat of my mother's car", and the changing subject matter sustained my interest.

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