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, 16 May 2018

"The Inevitable Gift Shop" by Will Eaves (CB Editions, 2016)

137 pages from Yale Review, New Yorker, TLS, PN Review, London Magazine, Stand, etc. Sections of poems alternate with sections of fragmentary prose - autobiography, literary criticism, aphorisms and journal entries. My second-hand copy included an interesting signature.

The freedom from the constraints of continuity doesn't always produce text that's bursting with thought-provoking jewels. The following is one fragment - "Never try to please the abstraction of an audience. Write to someone." (p.18) - which sounds as if it's come straight from a how-to-write book. Such fragments are sometimes ignited by later fragments, but not this one. By itself the fragment "the reader who wishes to 'relate', who seeks likeable characters and situations, is barely reading at all" (p.9) doesn't impress either. Nor by itself does "A fictional character isn't real, he's convincing, whereas an actor is both things at once, a real person being convincing" (p.22) but later I realised that it's a summary of some other fragments - I often point out to poets who use "rose" to mean "beauty" that it's a good idea for "rose" to also mean "rose".

In a novel (by Kundera or Julian Barnes, say) such thoughts, boring or not, help readers learn about the main character. Here the main character is the author. To me, the thoughts about automation on p.20 waste a page. The following fragment (especially the dimensions stuff, and "perpetually") means little to me - "I like looking out of windows. Life narrows to a point. Slowly I empty myself into the sea, a curve in at least four dimensions. There is a point to this, and it is a mathematical pattern. The pattern is the porthole mind, the O through which one falls, or pours, perpetually" (p.56). Maybe it's meant to be humourous. I think the following is a joke - "A long medical discussion may easily become an organ recital" (p.53).

His write-ups of subjects show that he's done some (patchy) reading, but his analogies are sometimes unhelpful and his conclusions unsurprising. For example, when writing about consciousness on p.99 the analogy using "keys" doesn't help me, and the fragment ends with "I think that consciousness arises from purely physical processes, but a physicalist description of those processes cannot account for consciousness" (p.99).

That said there are some lively similes - "The huge bottle-brushes span like tireless dervishes, descending on the car, wiping and threatening to wipe out the windscreen" (p.19). I like the tortoise-related material on p.54 - I suspect I would have used it in a story. And there are interesting snippets like "The rebel is an egoist to the point of misanthropy: he wants a following but he doesn't want the inconvenience of followers" (p.23).

He likes William Golding's "The Inheritors", some of UA Fanthorpe's poems, and Chekhov. He comments on several Shakespearean sonnets, pointing out that "In Shakespeare's sonnets one hears the low note and echo of abandonment - by a lover, certainly ... but also by time" (p.106, a page I liked) and "For a sequence with so many startling images, it's odd that so few of the sonnets describe a visual scene" (p.114). Providing insights without rigour, without dealing with opposing views, has a hit-and-run feel though, even when they succeed in illuminating texts.

I don't get most of the poetry. Here are some examples -

  • the start of a section - "Poor world, the violet insect-o-cutor glow/ of streetlights on the fallen snow is something like/ my need of him who sleeps nearby, but mostly not." (p.43). Why "Poor world"? I've never seen violet streetlights. In what way "something like"?
  • the start of a poem - "A hot child sees itself and cries./ The kind face kissing through the glass/ Perhaps half wants the things to come/ To be the things already done,// Like thank-you letters" (p.72) - a hot child sees itself not in a mirror but in the glass that a face is on the other side of. Why "Perhaps" and "half"? Whose thank-you letters? The kind face's presumably.
  • the end of a poem - "Which of the psalms will hear the clouds as/ they pass overhead, a stave of wires their nest?/ What makes them beautiful? Why do they tear/ themselves apart like ageing stars or clocks?" (p.74) - the stave of wires are telephone lines? In what way like a nest? Do clouds really tear themselves apart? Do clocks?
  • the start of a poem - "I look into the small theatre of the fire/ Where flames play something from a distant repertoire// And shape my loss. Someone has left an impression/ From which a cast of words can nearly be taken" (p.83) - a concert (rather than a play) is being performed, it seems, though a "cast" hints at a play - of words perhaps? "cast", like "play", is a pun, but for me the meanings mutually interfere rather than support.
  • the end of a poem - "The agent pales at the window,/ fades into a forest of light// with no access to the particulars/ for living off seeds, small kills,// alone in the out-there-somewhere/ like a call-centre operative on Jupiter" (p.119)
  • the middle of a poem - "The roses accept watering like automatons/ with painful feelings not included in the booklet/ and the wet tiles of the porch get stared at/ by the husband whose wife behind the flyscreen/ keeps a compound eye on his best efforts/ with sprinkler and hose" (p.123)

I like "A Likely Story" and some lines elsewhere - e.g. "Fire whirled the Crystal Palace away/ like a wild waiter harried by debutantes" (p.81). Online is The Lord Is Listenin’ To Ya, Hallelujah with notes by him.

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