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, 21 November 2020

"Loop of Jade" by Sarah Howe (Chatto and Windus, 2015)

Poems from Magma, PN Review, Poetry London, Poetry Review, etc. The book starts with a quote from Borges about a supposed categorisation of animals with categories like "(a) belonging to the emperor", "(n) that from a long way off look like flies", etc. Scattered through the book are poems whose titles are these categorisations.

"Start with weather" includes the baffling couplets "whether the scrunched-up mind in its agony/ can parse the parakeet's tracks" and "whether guilt's deranged orbit/ jellies the tar of parking lots". In contrast, the 4 page long "Crossing from Guangdong" has much of the clarity and formatting associated with prose. "Earthward" has short lines (I don't know why) and is rather delicate. "(c) Tame" is a fable in an odd format where page-width lines alternate with short, indented ones. "Loop of Jade" has sections in prose, in 7-lined narrow sections, and a section which is fully aligned with one or two gaps per line. The prose is a bit clunky - "sometimes, rarely, my mother will begin to talk ... It isn't that this tacit contract is not tinged by our same daily fumblings". "(j) Innumerable" seems more suited to a prose book.

I like some fragments - "eyes aware of several kinds of dark/ struggling to perfect themselves/ - the hidden chair, the bouquet of our clothes" (Night in Arizona), etc. "(d) Sucking pigs" is a sonnet with a final rhyming couplet, the final line being a footnote - a cute idea. "Woman in the Garden" is my favourite piece. I like "There were barnacles ...]" too.

There are 1.5 pages of notes - interesting, but they only solve a few of my problems.

Other reviews

  • Ben Wilkinson (winner this week of this year’s TS Eliot prize, the poet attempts to merge personal accounts of her dual Anglo-Chinese heritage with her scholar’s penchant for the intellectually abstruse. The result is a book of poems that are as playfully and frustratingly recondite as they are memorable and unusually affecting. ... Depending on a reader’s taste, these poems will seem either elegantly graceful, or decorative and over-designed. “Night in Arizona” is a prime example of the best and worst of this style ... too often Howe opts for an unconvincingly heightened and florid register – in “Pythagoras’s Curtain”, “cicadas … cadenza the acousmatic dusk”; “A Painting” lays it on thick with “the oyster-crust … of an unscraped palette – chewy rainbows, blistered jewels” – instead of working harder to write with the difficult clarity and complex simplicity of which she is capable)
  • lonesomereader
  • Tom Minogue (What’s most striking is how nimble these poems are, in spite of their numerous, dense allusions.)

No comments:

Post a comment