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, 22 November 2017

"The Book of Mirrors" by Frieda Hughes (Bloodaxe, 2009)

A more than generous 116 pages of poetry. The 4 pages of notes are prefaced by "If we were sitting in a room together and you were to ask me about the poems in The Book of Mirrors, then these notes contain some of the things that I would tell you. They are by no means essential" which I like the sound of.

There's no indentation. Each line commences with a capital. The title poem includes "The book of mirrors does not hold prisoners, / Although it may expose the cage/ Of our own construction. ... The book of mirrors is always found by the roadside,/ Or on a coffee table in a hospital waiting room,/ Or on bookshelves belonging to someone/ Who has recently died" which has potential. But I don't like "Windy fingers/ Working away at window-edges, trees/ Giving up their wish to be vertical,/ Crashing into hedges that teem/ With quivering wildlife ... And somewhere at night/ A dog barks endlessly, as if/ To keep the winter devils away/ But unable to guard anything more/ Than the one spot he stands on" (p.12).

Things get worse. p.14 is Flash. p.16 has nothing that the notes don't say more concisely. I like quite a lot of "Anticipating Stones" but I didn't like the poems on p.20, p.24-27 (yuck) and p.28. "Flea" has "This shapeless pinhead that's barely visible. ... this torturer's apprentice/ With his infected needles,/ This burrowing bloodsucker/ With his spring-loaded leap" - are we meant to have Donne's poem in mind when we read this uninspiring imagery? p.32 is weak. By now I'm wondering if I should give up, whether I'm not the target audience. And still 84 pages to go! But then "Harpist" tempts me to read on - "The strings ... Divide the world of his left/ From his right ... he brings his two spiders to meet/ at his fingertips".

"The Problem" includes "As you lie there, in the same dark/ From which the problem first emerged,/ It occurs to you that its very nature/ Defines it as owning a solution./ If there is none, then it is not a problem, It is an insurmountable obstacle". "Stunckle's Wish for a Family" is ok, but not "Stunckle's Truth" or "Nearly Fifty" which contains "time/ Is slipping through the gaps between my fingers/ Like beach sand"

"Doll" merits a story. "Food Fight" has no poetic added value (which could be said for many of the other pieces too). In "The Trouble with Death ..." "my internal landscape is little more/ Than a bone yard. Sometimes,/ In the early morning, I hear the wind/ Like the cry of an orphaned animal". In "Endgame" "We've known one another for years. We are even alike. But our similarities/ Are obliterated by our efforts:/ Yours to undo me, or outdo me;/ To make me small/ So you may claim mastery./ Mine to have you listen, that's all./ You see, for me, the battle was never to win"

There are a few autobiographical pieces, but they're not the best.

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