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, 29 September 2018

"Ice" by Gillian Clarke (Carcanet, 2012)

The poetry's nearly all in tidy box-shaped stanzas, sometimes with end-rhyme. I like "Swans", but not "Burnet Moths, "Blue sky thinking", "Pebble" or "Osprey". Especially later in the book there are dutiful, conscientious poems that mix phrases from a pretty standard pack of nature imagery. There's much personification, especially when snow's concerned. In small doses it can work well -

  • Tonight we lie together listening
    as miles of silence deepen to the coast.
    Snow blinds the rooflights.
    Roads forget themselves to north and east.
  • We're brought back to our senses, awake
    to the black and whiteness of world.
    Snow's sensational. It tastes
    of ice and fire. Hold a handful of cold.
  • trees stand in their bones
    asleep in the creak of a wind
    with snow on its mind.
  • and she's gone, night-river slipping its chains,
    fluent, reflective, pulling to sea
    under winter's weight

I like "Lambs", but I feel I've read it before, and descriptions like "a second lamb come slippery as a fish in a stream, steaming in moonlight" have mixed results. Some lines niggle me - "Glâs" ends with "like those rivers, reservoirs, aquifers underground,/ invisible silvers silent as ultrasound (my italics). The sonnet "The Fish Pass", about "homing salmon" ends on a tedious couplet - "it leaps through air, water, weir waterfall to spawn/ in shallows of the stream where it was born".

Other reviews

  • Stevie Davies (Clarke has always had a sensitive feel for line-placement and assonantal rhyme)
  • Dave Coates (This is a good book of poetry. Unlike some of its TSE-contemporaries, Ice is clear-headed about its artistic goals and scores more than it misses. ... The drawback of this focus on the past is that it appears to have little to say to the present: one particularly failed poem, “Blue Sky Thinking”, is an exhortation for the business travel industry to ‘ground the planes for a while’, which ends with the total negation of ‘No mark, no plane-trail, jet-growl anywhere’. The line is almost touching, but comes across as curmudgeonly and naive ... It’s a difficult book to love, however, ... The book is in awe of the natural world, but its rejection of modern life, though understandable in an author born in 1937, misses the chance to say something truly unique. Readers might find the repeated trope of wives waiting at home for their mining husbands, the ‘heroes’ of Gleision, difficult to swallow)

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