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 28 April 2018

"Waiting for the nightingale" by Miles Burrows (Carcanet, 2017)

About 100 pages of poems from "PN Review", "Poetry Review", "TLS", etc. Or are they poems? Carol Rumens writes "Burrows’s poem-like entities are a delight", and often they are, but they're the kind of texts I send to fiction (or creative non-fiction) magazines. She adds "His specialism is the bizarre but real, rather than the surreal, inlaid with an affectionate but sharp social observation ... In carrying the hypothesising idiom over into a field where it’s not usually found, or, at least, not so directly revealed, Burrows surprises us into amusement", pointing out his use of de-familiarisation.

Few of the poems flop completely. The style creates poems that aren't brittle - they can survive the odd duff line or two. The poems that don't work for me (e.g. "Our Neighbourhood") are instructive - they help highlight the factors that contribute to his successful pieces.

  • If poems deliver good-enough one-liners fast-enough, they succeed (Some of the poems here lose momentum or have no good lines to fall back on)
  • Sometimes the criteria of essays or character studies apply (some of the poems of this type don't feel that they provide decisive insight. Some over-use the defamiliarisation device)
  • Sometimes poems succeed because readers will get a sense of satisfaction recognising the references ("Wallace in Underland" and "Monday Morning" rather depend on Stevens' "Sunday Morning")

His poems can survive without one of two of these ingredients, but they struggle. I like "English Provincial Poetry", "The Crocodile Skin Handbag", "The figure in the tapestry" except for the line-breaks. And I like many fragments, his name-dropping, the inconsequential details, the "long erudite divagations and calling different names" (p.94), e.g. -

  • Lovers imagine Metaphysics/ To be some kind of baroque fire escape/ That lets them change the subject/ While continuing to talk about themselves (p.32)
  • There are no crosswords in heaven/ Because there is no tomorrow for the answer (p.34)
  • And the other half (rude but sincere)/ Was by monks scribbling in the margins./ There was nothing else to do in the fourteenth century./ Imagine it: first you're in the fourteenth century/ That's the 1300s remember)/ Then, on top of that, you're Philip Larkin in a cowl./ It's enough to make you want to spray things on trains (p.72)
  • There's ice hockey on TV which Father's taken a surprising interest in./ It takes him away from his sermons (p.68)
  • What is going on here? Does the poet's jocular tone/ Get on your nerves? (p.77)

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