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, 8 November 2017

"The Water Table" by Philip Gross (Bloodaxe, 2009)

I liked "Sluice Angel". Why angel? Because when the gates of a sea lock open, "two green-grey-brown stiffening blades// of water fold in. They curve, feathering/ themselves in free fall: wings// flexed, shuddering, not // to soar// but to pour themselves down". Finally, "the world,// our world, small craft, come through."

Scattered through the book there's a sequence of 10 "Betweenland" poems, which Andrew Green looks at. In "Betweenland I" the sea is "pulled two ways (earth and moon like parents not quite in accord) ... always trying to be something other, to be sky, to lose itself in absolute reflection.". "Betweenland III" is weak. "Betweenland IV" begins promisingly - "A mouth, we say - as if it spoke the hills'/ native language in the lowlands' slow/ translation". "Betweenland VIII" is better.

Some pieces are what-ifs. "Atlantis World" imagines the sea leaving, "waterfront apartments rebranding themselves as mountain villages like Tuscany". He can do Formalist pieces too. "Fantasia on a Theme from IKEA" is a ring of 7 sonnets on the theme of "ground". I like them. "To Build a Bridge" is a villanelle.

He has ideas about self-hood that he expounds clearly using analogies -

  • "Pour" - "Call it connecting one moment with another ... this slick and fluted glitter, slightly arcing, rebraiding itself as it falls ... a thing in space that lives in this world like us, with purpose though not one least particle is constant... could account or be held to account for what it is or does"
  • "Drip" - "a drop in a dark/ cave lake, its ripples spreading and// reflect/deflected from the unseen/ edges .. which make// a texture that for want/ of words we might call Me"
  • "Salt" - "a surprise to the mind from the body,// from the corner of the eye down my cheek/ to the tip of my tongue ... We might be drying// out slowly, to a hot and frosty glitter/ like a shallow rock pool in the sun"

though sometimes the philosophising sounds contrived -

  • "Though/ we don't know what it is/ that knows, it knows" (p.33)
  • "a memento of itself or what we had forgotten we'd forgotten" (p.50)
  • Severn song

"Elderly Iceberg off the Esplanade" was featured in "Forgive the language" by Katy Evans-Bush as an example of negative capability. She writes that "it's impressive how much empathy Gross applies to this iceberg ... it never becomes anthropomorphic. It is thoroughly an iceberg"

"Ware" seems thin. "Amphora", a shaped poem, doesn't do much for me. I didn't like "Thinks Bubble". The book sags for a while from about p.40. I didn't get the book's line-breaks and indents. They're all over the place.

Other reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment