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, 23 May 2020

"Poetry, Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits forgotten" by Oisin Breen (Hybrid Press, 2020)

I've been following with interest the reviews of this book. Late Romantic? High Modernist? There are no acknowledgements, perhaps because sections aren't self-contained. It's not my sort of poetry, but I'm curious. Here's the first sentence -

Memories, stilled and muted harmonia,
 silk-heavy in the russet wind,
 like sinuous leaves with ice-cracked spines,
 and a timbre of slowness,
In a schema of licentiousness,
Prompt, more so than age,
 these liver spots on my translucent skin.

"harmonia"? "russet wind"? "sinuous leaves" that are "silk-heavy"? "schema of licentiousness"? Lines 2-4 and 7 are indented by one space, and aren't capitalised, unlike the other lines. I'm baffled and a little suspicious, though I'd be happy enough with "Memories, more so than age, prompt these liver spots on my translucent skin". Already there are tell-tale signs of word excess (I guess the clue's in the title!). Had I less time on my hands I might well have given up at this point. Instead I read the book quickly, saving extracts that I've pasted below. Out of context though they are, I hope they'll give you a flavour of the content. There are moments of observation, pieces with the tone of wisdom, and lots of rhetorical repetition. Eliot? Hart Crane?

Isn't the act of placing flowers on a tomb a gesture of bringing a little life back to the dead?

And I place flowers on my father's grave,
a gesture, like any other,
to bring life to the dead.
And beside me two junkies eat a watermelon from a plastic bag,
And a black and white tit hops beneath their feet.

 

And in turn each approximation,
Becomes the outline of the boundaries of the next,
And our plump history is sketched in non-linear distance,
between the staple and the snare.

 

It is only in death that the final form of those we loved emerges.
Though as we ourselves approach death, their shape intermingles with our own changing.

 

But what if I forget myself? or spend the days -- in truth -- with the mouth full of ash, observing a vertical/horizontal lattice of incremental anamorphoses between what might have been, to what was?

 

What constellation blasted drear light,
a nova of turned down gas dials,
into a litany of hot wind and frozen pipes?

 

I hid because there was a kid nearby I knew.
We all called him retarded.
I was bullied too, but hating him was a guilty treat.
I was happy to feel like everyone else.

 

I hid because fate is a way out,
and salty epiphanies are beautiful,
like rotten flowers in a fat glass,
and wet Edinburgh streets.

 

Thus truth is nothing but the crushed pleats of the stories we tell ourselves to state, with surety, that we are pregnant with a real salt of the earth kenning of ourselves.

 

Today the hourglass is wet with time.
Today the minute hand is the spoor of the ineffectual cause.
Today I bond parched qualia with the grinding of bone-cut wheels.

Dublin and the Loose Footwork of Deity

And her eyes: Hanseatic trading ships marooned in the stony places of differing economy, persuaded to look, unshewing to themselves.

 

How is the ordering of things and the centreing eye a calculus of freedom in abashed abundance?

 

For in 2015, I love you, and I splice interstices of intersecting sedimentary instants in refracted chronological collapse -

Her Cross Carried, Burnt

The flowers they are fallen,
The fruit it is rotten,
But your grave is as pretty as ever.

 

KNOW THEN, THIS IS HOW ALL LIFE BEGINS
From vital song to verse, from chorus to hearse,
From the nodding head of coming dread, to linearity and vice.

 

We are all, in part, pulsars,
 etching secondary moments,
 in which we have something been,
 with furious, tempestuous light,
 into the fabric skin of space,
 into those nested Russian dolls of one and other's fantasy.
       So then it is that while you undress me,
       you undress just another version of yourself.

 

Other reviews

  • Lawrence Illsley (a triptych of long poems taking us through grief’s chaotic journey to acceptance. ... the strongest of the three poems is perhaps the second, ‘Dublin and the Loose Footwork of Deity’. Here we are firmly located in Dublin, and this appears to free Breen as a poet.)
  • Emma Lee (a journey through adulthood, loss of parents and developing as a individual. Its narrator meanders through gathering observations and thoughts. At times he could be seeing Dublin through the lens of Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, at others, Joyce’s Dublin is recognisable. It’s ambitious, designed to have cerebral appeal and determinedly unfashionable.)
  • (It is hard not to be impressed with Breen’s utter rejection of contemporary poetic trends and the skill with which he maintains what might be described as a High Romantic diction ... While the diction may be romantic the overall tone of Breen’s project is modernist ... I came away exhausted. Yes, exhilarated with the language, but also worn down by what reads like a 95-page Joycean epiphany. But if Breen’s reach ultimately exceeds his grasp within these pages, it is because his aims are so lofty)

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