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, 7 February 2018

"Inside the wave" by Helen Dunmore (Bloodaxe, 2017)

A posthumus collection, with poems from Acumen, London Magazine, the Poetry Review, etc. I like the title poem. "Shutting the gate" is a prose moment. "The Halt" is beyond me. I dislike "Hold out your arms". I like "Nightfall in the IKEA Kitchen" but not "At the Spit" or "Terra Incognita". "Girl in the Blue Pool" is attractive. Not "Ten books". In other words, patchy.

There are foreboding phrases -

  • In the ward's beautiful contentment/ Freed by opiates./ Hooked to oxygen/ We live for the moment (p.20)
  • I hear your breath, now failing/ As all the breaths of your life become/ Petals endlessly opening/ Inward, where the dark is (p.50)
  • My people are the dying,/ I am of their company/ And they are mine, We wake in the wan hour/ Between three and four, Listen to the rain (p.64). I used this idea, and I've seen others use it.
  • I am on the deep deep water/ Lightly held by one ankle/ Out of my depth, waiting (p.65)

Perhaps it's unfair to expect too much originality when writing about such a common topic.

She's best with water imagery - "I know your/ Confusion of ripples against the lakeshore/ Welcoming laughter/ The sounds of home/ Ringing like masts in harbour" (p.56). As others below have commented, she fragments the past, makes us look at its details by saying "here" or "now". When (as in her prize-winning "The Malarkey" or here, on p.41) the technique's combined with a mother's love and fears, she's at her best.

Other reviews

  • Sean O'Brien (She remarked in the early 90s that she was trying “to do without scaffolding” in her poetry ... Equally fascinating is the way she seamlessly represents various ways in which time is experienced – as present, as memory, as what relentlessly happens when nothing much else appears to be happening – by the repetition of the word “now”, and by a slightly flattened tone and eerily simple sentence construction.)
  • Carol Rumens (Dunmore draws on memory a good deal, often contrasting her verb tenses to disturb chronology and produce broad, dreamlike effects)
  • Katharine Towers

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