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, 7 April 2021

"i tulips" by Mario Petrucci (Enitharmon, 2010)

Maybe the "i" in the title is Italian for "the". The poems are from London Magazine, Magma, Oxford Poetry, Stand, etc. I think they were written quickly, the poems in this book selected from over a thousand.

Short lines (less than 5cm) and 3-lined stanzas predominate (p.83 uniquely has zigzag triplets). Sometimes there's extra space between the words (sometimes where a full stop would normally be). I usually have trouble with such pieces. Here are the book's start - "That tulip set by the window in its vase of dusk is like a flame. You cannot help but say — no. Because a tulip caught in that glass is a flame — and once you have said it how to return to bloomed stem or soft spike of anther where now is fire? ". I can make sense of this, but it's wordy. The book version compounds the clutter by adding white space - this extract is spread over 20 or so lines.

"starlings so" is conceptually more compact. It's about an apple tree suddenly filled with starlings, their "half-flight contrast to static rounds of flesh". The narrator decides that s/he'll "not let starlings eat but burst blackchaff at my bullet-clap knowing they think my hands a thing of dread a thing apart & gone in a swarm i am left a tree cored of starlings & cannot be sure i was not of them". That final quote (which I mostly like) spans 13 lines - more than 4 stanzas. "apart" is actually "a" and "part", separated by a stanza break - a useful double meaning (I've used it myself) but if the cost is that lots of other (to my mind gratuitous) line/stanza breaks need to be added, I don't think it's cost-effective.

Other poems also exploit word-breaking opportunities - e.g.

charcoaled bones fis
sured & more dee-
ply dark than sp-
ace on x-ray as order
-lies watch my blu-
shes rise

I'm not against such devices. Here's the start of something I wrote in 1999

Wipe the mist away to find the mirror, ex/citing land,
the wake a/Sterne reminder that nothing's new to the sure readers,
never flagging in their resolution, in/de-forming the silenced cannon,
syntax ran/sacked, holed where elements end and arrangement beg[in]s

It has puns (mist, sure, flagging, cannon, holed) and word-breaks but few line-breaks - when in doubt I left them out.

I struggle with many phrases in the poems. Sometimes there's a lucid image trying to get out - he's committed to telling it slant. Sometimes I'm lost. Here are some examples -

  • a twosome creature all but one yet s-/hunted through in/-cremental selves by diet of said-&-done (p.26)
  • cicadas revving up for sun let slip an extra watt : how one begets that cheesegrater or/-chestra shifting in the ear as sand through gears of current (p.46). This begins well, but (not for the first time) tries too hard at the end.
  • friend take me on - not as volumes whose spines flex with con/fusion or half-erected schools of confession raised arcadian around my cloisters to fix half-minded thought whose luke-warm dinners & fast propel this small engine through biography two-thirds lived in (p.49)
  • i have a bay in me whose walls gaze out fresh as milk to draw a tongue of ocean lapping - where eye levels horizon to raise the bowed & one spireless geometry ushers this body to its cooler shadow where dusk touches my dusk (p.52). I like the idea of an internal bay. At the mention of walls I wonder whether I should hold in mind "bay window" as well as a cliff-flanked seaside bay. But why bring freshness into it? Why milk? A tongue laps at milk. The images don't constructively cohere, nor do they interestingly oppose.
  • as if death might come to me fully lit or drowse if i could stay with it all that bitter way to cud some dawn steeped in juice or slumber whose point of breaking is almost that stunned return to yesterday (p.83). I like the "cud some dawn" idea.
  • though there never was time i ventured by night any s-/pit of sand & if dreams of others send us to sleep might sea be something near conscious vastly & sleeping that in its slumber dreams me? (p.85)
  • is it that loss before the loss - glimpsed in eye-glow of either while still pressed together - or as air-hand grasp for child lost to crowd while child still trots beside you in blood red duffel (p.87) - I'm unsure what this all means. The words distract. Maybe instead "a hint of loss to come - in a hugged lover's glowing eye, or a hand reaching for a toddler thought lost in a crowd but there beside you in blood red duffel"
  • through all this lull of green the hospital behind me s/parse in its re/petition of extinguishers (p.93). I like this as it is.
  • to sway me full into what s/wells within till b/lack has clasped each oilslick lung (p.99)

He writes -

  • "I'm seeking a species of language that can enlist and enact feeling and thought, rather than merely express emotion and think out loud... instead of talking about thoughts and feelings, I want poems that themselves think and feel."
  • "There's something almost quantum mechanical about many of the poems in the i tulips project, where syntax is made to hang - not least across line-breaks - so as to offer (though without becoming, one hopes, merely chaotic) a simultaneity of various possibilities for meaning. In a sense, there are different 'states' for the poem that co-exist as probabilities before a particular (perhaps more singular) reading of the text enacts certain decisions/interpretations within the listener's/reader's ear, decisions that 'collapse' the poem, as it proceeds, into a given observed state. Of course, conventional poems too may carry a plural quality; but in i tulips the occurrence is heightened and deepened"

which is all fair enough. When I was younger I think I was more sympathetic to these views. Since then I think I've veered towards surface clarity, hoping that readers can see through to the mysteries - Magritte and Escher.

My favourite is "we have to talk you &". It's longer than the other poems, which makes me more forgiving of the parts I don't understand.

Other reviews

  • David Pollard ([i t 61] is an extremely subtle and, I think, great poem. There are many like it in i tulips ... Examples include 'what stirs this is-' [i t 48] and 'i have heard in' [i t 95])

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