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 26 September 2020

"Tigress" by Jessica Mookherjee (Nine Arches Press, 2019)

Poems from Rialto, The High Window, Interpreter's House, The North, etc. I didn't think much of the first poem about her father arriving to the UK from Dhaka. I much prefer the second poem, "The Beginning of Flight", about her mother's arrival, taking in Blériot, Camels, Spitfires, and Enola Gay before arriving at Heathrow. I don't know what "Snapshot" is about. I like "The Truth" I don't know what "Sea-born" is about. I had trouble with this -

Apple moon, crisp and cream pale,
someone took a gentle bite out of her cheek
and left me with nothing to suck but my thumb.

As Dad drove her back from the hospital
she kept watching me in the car, peering,
twisted, from her passenger seat

I think the first line is comparing the moon to an apple. "cream" doesn't seem the right colour for an apple though, and there's a clash in my mind between cream (the food) and apple. The second line might refer to the cratered moon, though I think a moon=mother association is being set up. The apple's not alluded to again in the poem - I don't think these confused images justify its presence. In line 3 a child is missing what? Does she normally suck apples? Is she still being breast-fed? Neither seems likely. In stanza 2 why bother with "in the car"?

On p.24 "The concrete porch/ steps are now slippery, wet, and covered with slime" sounds too wordy.

"Our Father" includes "You were Varuna,/ lord of oceans, but you tricked us,/ turned into Uranium - our alpha particle,// then you dated the Earth". Well, Uranus was a sky god, and uranium was involved with finding the age of the Earth. Uranus married Gaia, the Earth goddess, so he "dated" (i.e. went out with) the Earth. The symbolism doesn't quite mesh, but its followable. However, I don't get "our alpha particle".

I liked "The Principal Boy". It begins with "I return to the theatre, after curtain call,/ all backstage, all eyes". Aspects of it puzzle me all the same. Stanza 1 mentions "I" and "You" (singular). Stanza 2 mentions "She", "you" and "We". Stanza 3 has "You", "we" and a final return to "I". I couldn't work out the cast. The final stanza makes it look as if "You" is the principal boy (i.e. a woman). In stanza 2 "She sits listening to you with dead ears".

"it" appears in stanza 1 of "The Bite Mark", entering the house "like a crumpled child" then lighting a halo. "It" morphs through the poem that ends with "It gently stings - singed kiss/ as it passes to wake us, it turns you into Orpheus// as I slip on its bite. My heart scarred with your wound, I keep it opened with my teeth". Rich surrealism or confused imagery? What can be kept open with teeth? I struggle with phrases like "I slip on its bite" and the punctuation doesn't help.

I like "Dream Dictionary" and "Tigress". I like the 2nd half of "The Cold Wife". "Self portrait in maroon and black" is good. "Mothers' Day" and "Vernal Equinox" are rather anecdotal.

"Stranger" ends with "They spread/ rumours that I'm the moon and chase me with silver./ I know I can't drown because I'm the water" With silver? I like "Darshan".

The poems vary in their stance to realism. Some are descriptive, some wrap realism in figurative language, some might be based on realism but the clues are missing, and some aren't trying to relate to the world. I think that some pieces are internally contradictory, which is ok for a poem if it works. It didn't work for me. Some of the pieces in other styles did.

Other reviews

  • Emma Lee (Her poems are inventive and distinctive. They use familiar vocabulary to explore complex ideas in a search for a divided self.)
  • Stephanie Sy-quia (One might call this Immigrant Gothic. Indeed, it is easy to imagine the claustrophobia the Welsh Mumbles would elicit in a man arriving in the country “the day Winston Churchill dies”, having travelled alone from Dhaka. For the wife who comes to join him, it is too much, and she soon becomes a pharmaceutically fogged Bertha Mason, placated by pills and deserving of pity.)
  • Neil Fulwood (Tigress is a collection that deserves to be discovered, savoured, lingered over and returned to: a work, I believe, that will find its home in the subconscious rather than the coldly analytical.)

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