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, 13 December 2017

"A Season in Eden" by Peter Daniels (Gatehouse Press, 2017)

Poems from Ambit, The Interpreter's House, Magma, Poetry London, several of his earlier pamphlets, etc., amongst which are two 1st prizewinners. So it's no surprise that there are many good poems. Those familiar with his readings might expect approachable, conversational poems starting in ordinary surroundings, leading readers along until they realise that they've ended up in a different world. A landscape can become metaphor with a final line. Perhaps "Walk" does this most explicitly here. That's only part of his output though - there are several pieces to tax studious readers - "Seminar for Nomads"? "Finishing touches"? "The Bishop's Move"?

Some passages, if not obscure, take some unwrapping -

  • Late April and the trees are opening up where such/ transparent air comes across new greenery to hide in ("Being Cute")
  • People sealed their opinions in registered envelopes/ posted to themselves for future quarrels with the past ("The Mediators")
  • [the devil]'s bartered your soul for a trinket you'll wear boldly where the philanthropists find their good intentions ("Shrinking Violet")


"Being English" and "Being Queer" are the most direct treatments of identity, though they come to no tidy conclusion. In the latter there's a hint of identity-nostalgia - "Give us back that word ... our own furtive ways of being something else". "Twilight men of Southend" and "Assessment" consider identity in conditions where the people don't (or feel they don't) belong.

A theme threading through several of the poems is how your choice of self-image affects what others (and hence you) think about yourself, and how the people around you at the time influence the outcome. When it's difficult to express your self authentically (perhaps because you've suppressed such expression for too long), one approach is to change your appearance, hoping that you'll "grown into it". In "Pirate Hat" "I'm off to impersonate myself tonight at the masquerade … Not as anything other than how it is the muses like to dress me up … I show them the dirty old man that I am … in this indoor pleasure garden set up with trees and a classical gazebo, where I ponce about while woman, at the mention of buggery, fondle their boyfriends' buttocks".

A self-image that doesn't reflect your current self may nevertheless be useful. Compare "Being drawn" ("It's hard ... inside this tough new shape ... for my self-desire to look at what I'm like ... I'm the real me ... But I need a frame I don't walk away from") with "Painting the House" ("Making do with the life you have").

More generally, there's a theme of seeking a sense of belonging - a place maybe (a house), or a group of people. If you want to change, then new places, languages and friends help. There's an awareness of the contrast between one person's world - their social group ("Faces") and landscape ("All you need") - and yours. Some poems can easily be read as metaphors for "Life" or Identity. In "The Crater" the persona knows a special place in the landscape that they identify with. They're thinking of inviting someone there. "The Causeway" spatialises the quest for identity, looking for a cause, a way - "limestone from the floor of ages, lifted,/ shaped from the losses that have washed away". Why walk along it? Existentially - because it's there.


God seems rather entangled with notions of Identity. I re-read "God's Power" a few times. The poem begins with "Do I have God in mind? Am I talking to him?/ Is he listening? Is that an easy pronoun or a long way round?" I think it is an easy pronoun, and is the long way round - isn't "I" communicating with "I"? I view with suspicion personae who think they're talking to imaginary beings. It gets worse -

God could perhaps part the waves because
the waves are part of him, like the ones
     Jesus defied with his feet.

Later it's almost as if the "I" identifies with God.

I part the sea a little. I stop to warn myself
I could be drowning. There is a life to keep
     moving along with.

I like the final image, that life (consciousness?) is like a wave passing though matter (the extra boat confuses me though, as does the extra wave) -

Life a wave met by a passing boat, and like
the wave the boat makes as it passes through,
     the water continues.

In "God's way" we read that "God creates his worlds/ unalike in circumstance/ but equal, it seems". I don't know what "equal" means here - all multiverses are equally meaningless? I think the poem's saying that the needs which drive some people to believe in God lead others to "fortune-tellers' wigwams, the stock-exchanges, the cathedrals", which seems fair enough.

"Peter" begins with "'Oh Peter, you're so in denial,' says Jesus,/ 'And you with the keys to the kingdom/ clipped to your belt". It's tempting to read "Peter" as the poet, and the keys as gay code (along with the keys in "Painting the house"?). Having re-read Matthew 26:34 though, I still don't know what the "it" in the poem's final line refers to.

What are we supposed to make of the persona in "Painting the house" when they think "But where's my reward, and where's my soul,/ and where's the reason for living,/ and I'd like to know how they value me/ and what will they say in heaven?". Naive? I guess the same applies for "God has something special in mind for me, he has a plan, my own special destiny" in the title poem, and "God might grieve when I die - how I would like to think so" in "God's power". What is this God? Well, at the very least it's "all that exists" (p.28), a definition exploited elsewhere -

Each clod. Each continent. Each planet.
Elements of our own, but scattered - siblings,
lovers - hands unable to combine,
until they find their moment to respond
across the distances, across the closeness. Like us, mushrooms have raised their heads

out of the breeding earth

"God's Promises" doesn't help.

The Rest

There's little Formalist poetry - "Painting the house" has an xaxaxa rhyme scheme. "A Season in Eden" is aaa, the first lines of the stanzas in "Prisoner" have mid-line rhymes with the end-rhymes, and "Being English" uses regular repetition.

He can be glass-half-empty - remorselessly so in "Half Year" where "the summer's already weary at the first of July … pretty scarlet poppies give an edge of blood to the dull fields. … Anyone got some shears for a wreath? The privet is gathering over us".

"Hat and Pan" and "A Clockwork Uncle" are my favourites, both intersplicing ideas. The former includes circus acts, cooking, hats and being restricted by a job. It shouldn't work, but it does for me. The latter (whose title is beyond me) juggles thoughts about happy families, families in fairy tales, the persona's own family in the past, and walking the dog. I like "Pirate Hat", "Walk", "Out There", "Aviation Fuel". I'm less keen on "Regulars" and "Painting the House". "2nd October" and "Being English" feel like fillers, and I don't get any of the "I" to "V" sequence of epigrams that are scattered through the book.

Other reviews

  • Brian Docherty (As the title implies, the book moves through seasons, literal, personal, and emotional, covering a notional year)

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