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, 23 September 2017

"A painted field" by Robin Robertson (Picador, 1997)

How about this as a way to describe effortless flight - "A bird finds an open channel in the air/ and follows it without exertion to the branch" (p.4) - or this, depicting a lightning flash - "Lightning flexes: a man chalked on a board, reeling,/ exact, elementary, flawed; at each kick, birds flinch/ and scatter from the white lawn" (p.4)?

He can pack much imagery in without contorting the syntax. Consider for example "Stone circles of sheep/ in the drowned field/ watch helicopters come/ dreaming over hedges:/ horse-flies the size of houses,/ great machines/ for opening the air,/ and shaking it shut" (p.6)

The language can become more prosey - "No one watches the soldiers/ walking backwards on patrol:/ the cellophane crackle of radios,/ the call and answer/ as they stroll, each cradling/ a weapon like a newborn child" (p.6)

Does this style let him deal with people too? Here's an early attempt - "he cannot tell her how the open night/ swings like a door without her,/ how he is the lock/ and she is the key" (p.8). What about mourning? - "Death is first absence, then a presence/ of the dead amongst the living:/ the kick of grief like a turning fin, that whelms/ but cannot break the surface ... We have tasted salt;/ we feel our eyes shine" (p.22)

I'm less convinced by the following, about lighting a hearth fire, though it begins ok - "the lung of paper sucked in/ and suddenly lit from behind:/ a roaring diorama;/ the long throats of fire, feasting,// hungry for news. The page is read,/ then reddened, then consumed." (p.44)

The book ends with "Camera Obscura" a 27-page mix of poetry, biography and quotes from "She moved through the fair" - maybe it's good, but it's not my type of thing.

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