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.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

"Useful Verses" by Richard Osmond (Picador, 2017)

Poems from Dark Horse, a Happenstance pamphlet etc. A few poems are a line or two long. Others occupy three pages. The selection includes some translations from old English. Most of the poems are beyond me, using tricks to expose the tricks that I know about anyway. I can't even claim to have read them all thoroughly - it was a struggle.

He's quite explicit, at one level anyway, about the purpose of pieces. "A Game of Golf" contains its own explanation. In "Roadkill" he knowingly points out that "mosquitoes are dying against the screen as countlessly as deer do in poems". More generally he might be claiming that different rules apply in poetry to those of factual prose - on p.23 he writes "Receptors in the nose do not respond, as was once/ believed (in the 'lock and key' model of olfaction),/ to the size and shape of molecules but to electrons'/ vibrational frequencies at a quantum level ... but we are in the poem, where thought tunnels/ freely from one state and position to another". I wince nowadays when poetry interpretation is compared to quantum mechanics, though I used to employ such analogies too. I think he's also trying to show that new detail can replace old without affecting the overall effect of the piece - in "Luck and Colour" "He was dressed in green", then "His trousers were the colour of's trademarked background" then we get some HTML - "#trou {color:#003917;} ... <div id="trou"><p>His trousers</p>"

Poems like "High Fructose Corn Syrup" and "Charm for Clear Skin" look too short and simple. On p.30 he makes a joke from the phrase that a cock crowed. "Manna" is ok as an article except for the pretentious ending. "Association" explains an embedded, otherwise obscure poem. Again, it's an article that needs work.

I liked parts of "Fire". In the Guitar shaped poem I like the double use of the mirror - it's the kind of quirky detail I'd use in Flash. "Nina" would fit smoothly into a short story.

Other reviews

  • Joey Connelly (The project of Useful Verses then, more than anything else, lies in dissecting the toolkit poetry has for affecting us ... Osmond tends to write with either a studied phonic blankness, extending his sentences beyond their ability to sustain any kind of poetic music, or in caricature of jangling poetic ballad-metre ... the book’s restless picking at the corners of poetry’s artifice is responsible for both its highest and its lowest points ... [In] A Game of Golf’ ... Osmond is pointing out the way that poetry’s tricks for manipulating us might be comparable to SEO’d internet text. But it feels like the sentence ‘poetry’s tricks for manipulating us might be comparable to SEO’d internet text’ does the job as well as this three-page poem, with the added bonus of avoiding the feeling of unwholesome intellectual grandstanding. ... But for every dud in the book, there are a dozen poems working really hard ... his elaborate intellectual attack on poetry’s modes of dissimulation and deceit is made to express the need we have of that dissimulation and deceit as a crucial shield against the slings and shots of existential pain on the one hand, and cloying sentimental manipulation on the other.)
  • Stephen Grace (Useful Verses can usefully be thought of as giving us different versions of this transaction between the structured human body and the unstructured chaos of the wild, though often in ways that put pressure on how we might define these terms ... given the exaggeratedly repetitious, artificial dimensions of chants and spells, it is tempting to say that nature has never been especially natural. Which is not to say that nature does not exist at all, but rather that it is elusive and composite, comprised of a multitude of different structures, and that it might very look and feel like an unstructured chaos, especially if we remain tethered to narrowly ‘human’ modes of perception.)

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