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, 20 December 2017

"Noir" by Charlotte Gann (Happenstance, 2016)

Poems from "Compass", "Magma", "The North", "The Rialto", "Under the Radar", etc.

Even if the personae can sense menace, they're powerless - mere observers. Readers are kept in suspense with no promise of resolution. Much seems to be going on off-stage, characters reacting to unseen forces.

  • In "Collected" I understand that the female character seems to be being collected from work (a job that involves wearing nylon and a badge). The "other" is "purring in shadows, slinking". They drive past places - "she leaves each one in flames". They reach the motorway then the black choppy sea. The ending is "'Remember The French Lieutenant's/ Woman?' he says. She remembers only The Collector.". I can see why sea might remind him of the John Fowles novel. I can see why this may lead her to believe he might be comparing the relationship of the 2 main characters in that novel to their own relationship, which is why a different Fowles novel comes to her mind. The conceit's rather forced, but in any case why should she feel kidnapped? Is the job any freer than the relationship? Why is the car/male slinking? What is the "in flames" phrase all about? It's melodrama.
  • "The King's Head" begins with "She sits alone ... head bowed" ending with "When her older, anoracked/ companion returns from the gents/ she doesn't look up// and when he leans in, resting his hands on her knee,/ she remains quite still". I get the picture. I can see in the title a clue that the man might be the boss of the relationshp. But then what?
  • "Old Wives" - "just this endless stream of wives-and-mothers". Yes.
  • "The Black Water" isn't is "Tunnel" again?
  • "Corners" begins "Once he's done she makes him up a nice bed". There's detail on how she makes the bed, what she prepares for breakfast. Then "She walks him to the station". Once he's gone, she cries out.
    A template that makes me suspicious of poems (I use it myself) is when there's a little mention of something that readers are meant to expand to fill the poem - a significant, melodramatic detail which the rest of the work is ready to absorb and amplify. Details (diversionary for the main character) absorb well.
  • "Counsel" - "Out front, a retired paedophile leans on/ his push mower ... We can work through all this, you say// though your words mean little to me ... All of life has led me to this moment ..." - big statements.

"Prisoner" doesn't have enough for me. I prefer "Tunnel" ("the chasm swallows them all"). I like "Dream (11)". "The Letter" is my favourite piece. I think it's good. I think it's prose. "On the tide" is ok too. "Column inches" might be my next most favourite. "Mrs Coulter's Scissors" is interesting.

"Dream (IV)" is a villanelle. See an interview for more background, e.g. - "Anxiety is a big theme of the book."

Other reviews

  • John Field (views suburbia through the eyes of a forensics team)
  • John Challis (filled with dark and anxious poems that aren’t afraid to leave their often-worrying situations unresolved ... Gann’s world is voyeuristic and intriguing, and feeds off of darkness. ... At times Noir might have drilled a little deeper into why its world is so dark, or, perhaps, explored how a sense of claustrophobia or surveillance rules our lives, but strength is also gathered through this refusal to stray or over-analyse its duplicitous world. This relentlessness is echoed between poems through the recurring use of shadow and light, which serves to compress the terror of Gann’s dark world, and lend it urgency.)
  • Pam Thompson (a handsomely designed book: the cover with its image of looming dark buildings, the weight of its cream pages. Gann has said that this is a work about anxiety and to this reader, it nails it. Anxiety makes us fear being out of control. It keeps us vigilant, hyper-tense. This atmosphere prevails in many of the poems in an accomplished, if unsettling, debut collection.)
  • Peter Kenny (An atmosphere of spy-like surveillance pervades these poems. People peer at each other’s apparently mundane lives and catch glimpses of darkness and impending catastrophe. ... When we are hunting for clues, we see this is a world where windows take on an unusual significance, offering portals into other realities, or presenting us with choices to be made ... One of the cumulative effects of all this is that it begins to supercharge Gann’s images. We are in Gannland as soon as we notice that the woman sitting alone in a pub is wearing a black jumper. Something’s not right)
  • David Clarke (a consistency of vision and approach rare in first collections ... The collection’s key theme, which it also shares with film noir, is the difficulty, if not impossibility, of communication between human beings, not least in their most intimate relationships. ... The thematic cohesion of the book is so strong that there were times when I found all of this a little unrelenting. It would not be fair to say that Gann is essentially writing the same poem over and over again, since a wide variety of perspectives is offered on the collection’s themes. Nevertheless, the danger of such a systematically applied aesthetic and thematic focus over a reasonably long collection is that the reader will feel like the same point is being made repeatedly. Nevertheless, it should be said that Gann’s book represents a very original approach to the politics of gender, relationships and family that has an implicitly political intent. )

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