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, 1 November 2017

"Andraste's Hair" by Eleanor Rees (Salt, 2007)

Poems from Stand, etc.

p.4 ends with "My city is wearing costume jewellery tonight -/ glittering and real", the final line of which seems somewhat gratuitous, and p.5 starts with

A Red Moon

I break the top from the cathedral
and it comes,
          oozing steam,
cream,                champagne,
a thick cloud on the ground,

is a cake now, a castle, an island,
a ship, a table, pip in an apple, an eye

which rather than having too many words, has too few for me. I don't get it, and I begin to distrust the poet. I could imagine the first line to mean that the top from the cathedral disappears in cloud, but does the "it" in the second line refer to the moon (initially this seems the most likely option) or the top? How does a cloud end up on the ground. I know that Hamlet suggests to Polonius that clouds can take several forms (and Polonius always agrees) but that doesn't seem to have much to do with this situation. Maybe the cathedral is a food container, or a bottle. The shape of the poem suggests oozing that breaks into 2 streams as it falls to the ground. But again, the analogy breaks down and nothing's left. The white space has an adverse effect.

Here's the start of another poem

The Clock Tower

I see the right-hand smile.
          A line
          from five across to nine
          turns to a curve

The detail makes me want to decode the image. Why the indentation? Why "right-hand"? Were a piece of taut string tied from the point of the hour hand to the point of the minute hand, and the time was 9.25 (i.e. "from five across to nine", then as time progressed, the string (the [straight] line) would turn into a curved line, a one-sided smile (like that of a stroke victim), but using the term "right-hand" in the context of clocks (which have hands) is confusing if the lopsided smile is what's being referred to. I suspect I've lead myself a long way down a garden path.

The title poem is long only because the lines are so short - unnecessarily so. "The Fair" is over 2 pages long because, .e.g., "A man nabs the collar of the girl before she bobs beneath the stalls -" occupies 7 lines. Elsewhere in the same poem, typography is used to highlight intended poeticisms - not using CAPS and/or COLOUR but, just as garishly, spacing -

Outside fences, past the car park,
empty squares of dark field are

On p.31 is "There is a table in the room. It is also rough, made of oak. On it are laid the plates for dinner though the staircase that runs into the room is empty and the upstairs rooms are empty and the kitchen is empty", spread over 16 lines. It's the kind of thing that gives poetry a bad reputation amongst prose writers.

And yet, she can produce passages like "Heat battens the day/ to stone,/ seals all edges into/ a whole:/ a monument of sun." (p.32). I like "Parkland". Fragments like "Battling green oak trees fall burdened/ with ciphers,/ letters bundled to the ground/ washed from newsprint spell/ unspoken needs/ in the back street puddles" have potential that to my mind is damaged by the context and inattention to detail. Do the trees fall, or just the leaves?

The book ends with a 5 part, 15 paged piece called "A Nocturnal Opera" which contains many sections that I find confusing. E.g.

  • "I can see Jupiter's rings hooked on the church tower.// I can see the sun buried in the public gardens,/ its red fuzz streaming from freshly dug soil" p.62
  • "In the forest, trees have no substance -/ are octopus, flailing blue veined" p.64
  • "Your blood in my veins like axe marks on a tree stump" p.69

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