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, 11 November 2017

"Forgive the language" by Katy Evans-Bush (Penned in the margins, 2015)

Articles/essays from "Contemporary Poetry Review", "The Dark Horse", "The Los Angeles Review of Books", "Magma", "Poetry London", "The Poetry Review", etc - an impressive haul. Inevitably there's some repetition, with pages 45 and 50, 61 and 73, 130 and 215 sharing blocks of lines. She's a pro - professional in her approach, and in favour of what she writes about.

Comments on particular essays

I was aware of Ira Lightman's investigations into plagiarism, which she tackles in "Now I'm a real boy". I hadn't realised how many moral boundaries Sheree Mack had transgressed -

  • She broke the trust that fellow workshoppers presume
  • She exploited the Black/authenticity theme, bizarrely transplanting poems by Douglas Dunn, etc to Trinidad
  • She taught creative writing at the OU.

KEB writes "It seems to me obvious that this is self-harming activity" (p.191), which seems quite possible.

"The Line" covers much material in a few pages, making several useful points -

  • "Clearly the line plays a different role in sound, concrete, 'innovative,' 'post-avant,' language and other poetries" p.194
  • "Many poetry tutors don't like to discuss [line endings] at all; there is such a taboo on discussing this most personal aspect of poetry" p.196

Uncharacteristically she quotes some lines she doesn't like. Then on p.204 she takes some lines from "Briggflats" and reformats them so that there are "Orphaned words ... Symmetries ruined ... like a refrain in a 60s pop song ... a line too clotted even to falter ... trivial ... the final line portentous and reminiscent of Peter Greenaway". I can't see quite as much of a difference between the 2 examples. She points out some risks with certain types of line break -

  • "Done badly, it means the reader has to go back, reread the first line ... and then proceed, having gained nothing from the experience" (p.206)
  • "so many poets adopt [the utterly atomised line break] merely to break up something they think would have looked predictable otherwise" (p.207)

I see many such line breaks even in famous poets' works. Of Sharon Olds' poems she writes "Putting the stress on the first word of the line below, it creates a sense of urgency as well as hesitancy, and disorientates the reader, who then grabs for the emotional content as for a lifeline" (p.207). I don't feel urgency, hesitancy or disorientation. After a line or so I adapt to the style and the trick loses its (in any case minor) effect.

For me there seems a lot of subjectivity in people's response to line breaks, opinions based as much on the poet's name as the layout. A wide range of alternative formats of a poem could be defended because there are so many grounds (not least of which is "breaking convention"). We need many more experiments, more psychology of reading. How, for example, do short lines affect reading speed (actual and felt)?

Differences between us

  • I tend to accentuate the negative, the darkness blinding me so that I miss some good features. A case in point might be Dorothy Molloy's poetry of which KEB writes "This sound is her own music, and it is the thing that makes these poems work despite their weakness of melodrama, sentimentality, and the sometimes lazy diction which leads to sloppy imagery ... She annoys me with a slight histrionic edge, almost adolescent, as if she were the only person who had ever had a hard time" (p.83, 84). When there's doubt, I have trouble interpreting positively whereas KEB sees the bright side - "Merwin's characteristic late style avoids punctuation and linear narrative ... This has the effect of thrusting the reader right into the words themselves, undiluted by all the hesitations and qualifications of the comma, semi-colon and full-stop" (p.114)
  • She tries to be interesting - no statistics for example.
  • She's good at summarizing large areas of knowledge - a poet's oeuvre; a movement, etc - the results sounding like hard-won conclusions rather than bland generalisations.

Things I couldn't bring myself to write

  • "we have a solid core in us that makes us human, and that this core is expressed through poetry" (p.48)
  • "These poems chip away at the nonessential in the words they are made of, become prisms of association and fractal intensity " (p.109)
  • "shapes yield fragments of meaning, like a race memory. Spin the [Liliane Lijn] cone and even that disappears into the particular abstract Energy of the particle" (p.165)


  • but now how to get to it (p.24. "now" should be "not"?)
  • this is a poem is that is (p.135)
  • was also reiewing (p.137)
  • life issomething (p.153)
  • compelling anf immediate (p.163)
  • Bing too linear (p.164)
  • alongisde (p.166)
  • A quotemark's missing from the final paragraph on p.171, and some quotemarks on p.194 ('innovative,' 'post-avant,') look wrongly placed to me.


  1. Dear Tim

    My wife Rusty and I bought this book when it first came out and found it absolutely fascinating. Katy certainly knows a lot about poetry. If you'll permit me a small plug, my 'The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayaam' is now available from Amazon Kindle for just £1.99! Perhaps you could review it?

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish

  2. Dear Tim

    Sorry! For years I have been generous about other people's poetry without ever mentioning my own. Perhaps I have been overcompensating recently.

    Best wishes from Simon