Sunday, 25 March 2012

"Moving Parts": reviewing the reviews

Thanks to Helena's efforts I've had 10 reviews in 10 months - "Acumen", "Envoi", "New Walk", "Other Poetry", "Under the Radar", "Weyfarers", "Bow-wow Shop" and 3 in "Sphinx". I'm grateful to all the reviewers - it couldn't have been easy. Time for a summary.

Poems mentioned

Some poets moan that reviewers ignore their books. I'm not going to moan that 4 of the 28 poems weren't mentioned, though it's interesting to note that amongst those 4 are a poem from Stand and a minor prize-winner. "Escape" received the most attention - it's pivotal according to one reviewer. It has the most-quoted lines too - "I magnify the moment, hold an uncorked bottle to my mouth two-handout like a clarinet and play the blues."

Like many first collections, the poems were written over many years. I initially sent in about 60 poems. I find it hard enough to compare my poems with each other let alone with those of other poets, so I mostly submitted published work. Helena made an initial selection and we negotiated from there. Most of my more recent pieces lost out in the process. My worries were that the collection would have too much variety and that it would be unrepresentative, leaning towards poems like "Touch". In fact, there are more than enough challenges for the target audience. Inclusion of poems like "Touch" means that readers might give me the benefit of the doubt when the going gets tough.

What I've learnt

  • That reviews don't worry much about acknowledgements and prizewinners
  • Reviews help sales though they might not cover costs - at least 2 buyers said they bought because of particular reviews
  • Christopher J.P. Smith attempted a tri-partite classification that I wouldn't argue with.
  • A few people see difficulty, or can't find what a poem's "about", which is no surprise. More surprising is that some of these people in other reviews have appreciated non-representational pieces. It doesn't help that some poems are simple whereas others are deceptively simple. As readers go from one poems to the next they may need to change the aesthetic framework. Worse still, they need to change from line to line. It's more like reading Don Paterson than, say, Pascal Petit. I think "Misreading the Signs" is typical from its title to its punch-line - by drawing attention to sign/signified issues it breaks the mimetic spell - the sign saying it's not quarter past six really being a "don't turn right" sign. It's person-centred but wanders into abstract/essay territory using juxtaposition.
  • One particular kind of difficulty often mentioned is the "puzzle". Jim Murdoch has written about this, and I don't disagree with anything he says. I could have made some things easier without losing artistic integrity. People sense that they're missing something or that something needs assembling. Yes, I sometimes use juxtaposition, and no, I don't include instructions or a picture on the box. I think I'm a hard-edge (rather than soft-edge) writer - as with Pound's "Metro" poem or Magritte's surrealism, the objects aren't fuzzy or obscured. It may be this that makes readers assume that the rest of the poem is equally clear. More than one person said that "Giraffe" was difficult. To me it's just a "Martian Poetry" metaphor-fest.
  • Nobody's suggested that there should be notes. I've not (unlike Kona MacPhee) written about all of the pieces online, but there are some notes

Possible Puffs

  • "A very satisfying collection"
  • "A fine intelligent collection"
  • "remarkable for their freight of experience, assured grasp of line, and a poetic sensibility as confident as it is unusual"
  • "unmistakeable authority of experience"
  • "precision and tactile immediacy"
  • "a wonderful ear"
  • "an intense and rewarding read"
  • "he writes exceptionally well about children"
  • "What’s most winning, for me, is his really human touch"
  • "The strength of the personae in the pamphlet is the thing that attracts attention"
  • "Tim Love is probably a magician"
  • "The language is deceptively plain but is deftly spiced with originality"
  • "skilled metre is matched by a deep understanding of the measured world"

The Reviews

  • Among high spots in Moving Parts by Tim Love are 'Therapy' (Look for a sign ... / Memorise it. Look away. If the sign's changed when you look back / you're dreaming) and a painfully moving poem in which a young hospital visitor brings his favorite toy car so you could brrmbrrm it along the sheets and get better
    (Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, Other Poetry IV.4)
  • Starting Tim Love's Moving Parts came as a revelation. The wonderful first poem 'Love at first sight' at first put me off the scent about what I was really reading - about meeting a newborn in an incubator. The language is deceptively plain but is deftly spiced with originality:
    When you reach together into her world
    there's no alarm, because in that first hour
    there's a glimpse of what's to come
    
    So far so good - a not-too-difficult start to the collection but I was already hooked and knew I'd be on a roller-coaster ride. The pamphlet's title led me to expect a mechanical, Heath-Robinson-type contraption but, after a time, I couldn't discern the connections. I kept thinking "Try harder" because, at the same time, I was wanting to unravel each of the mystery parcels. Each poem gave me this sense that I was inside a puzzle and it was an experience that, on the whole, I much enjoyed, for most of the poems rewarded the work I put into them.
    And, sometimes, I did have to work quite hard and, in several poems, I was not successful as in 'Giraffe', which baffled me. I think this poet knows a lot of things I don't know, scientific and philosophical things about particles and for a start he's trying to make sense of his very complex world, a world that is much more complex than I could ever grasp. You have to believe these poems.
    In 'Escape' where the tables are turned on the man trying to enjoy 'a last minute from snow's routine'; and who ends up feeling like the outsider, stared at through the gate by a legless man, sleeping under the flashback of the moon
    They've proved that lab rats dream of their mazes.
    I dream of a brass doorknob whose dimple
    my thumb always finds.
    
    Astonishing images like that mean that we don't have to know what it's about to get it. The poem ends with:
    I magnify the moment,
    hold an uncorked bottle to my mouth
    two-handout like a clarinet and play the blues.
    
    'The fall' is one of those poems I almost understand but won't forget, for its elegant phrasing and incisive imagery:
    because all languages have the same 
    word for olive, they grow on the hillside
    where language first grew
    
    Having said that, some lines fall short because, for me, they are simply too much like clever puns - 'because you didn't burn your bridges'. But I am really rather hesitant to mention what I didn't like because I think Tim Love is probably a magician, especially when he writes that Odysseus's children have 'eyes the colour of their footprints.' And 'In the soul's darkroom' which I'll quote as a whole:
    Stare and slowly pale visions will appear,
    bathed in red, their darkness soon deepening.
    There's no going back. Words hold beauty still
    only for that moment before the lies -
    
    as water-lily buds ache inches clear
    of fixing fluids before opening,
    resting back on the loving surface still
    bright and reflective even when it dries.
    
    I felt that my understanding of these poems was also like a photograph being slowly developed in my mind's darkroom.
    (Envoi, Rebecca Gethin)
  • 'She has no imagination', Tim Love writes in 'Giraffe'. 'When she wakes, the lions are for real'. This is Love at his best in Moving Parts: understated yet imaginative; fanciful yet intelligible; sincere but not sentimental; cerebral but not pretentious. With child-like wonder, Love notes the giraffe's 'brown birthmarks big as dinner-plates'. While 'Giraffe'. finds its impetus in the exotic, poems such as 'Forever' owe their force to a charged rendering of the quotidian:
    A cathedral's beauty
    is the shared silence,
    not the stone - 
    whether the fireworks
    are over, or whether
    it's just a pause -
    
    As one would expect, Moving Parts contains the inevitable missteps: the preciousness of lines like 'the reeds / all sway together like memories of first love' (from 'How we make love'); the bizarre intersection of Custer and a Dylanoid (Highwa 61-like) mania in 'Fossil expedition'; and the shallow wit (read: poop jokes) of "'Poetry is the deification of reality' - Edith Sitwell". One gets the sense that the lighter poems in this collection are meant simply as breathing room between the more substantive ones.
    At its most powerful, Moving Parts gives us gnomic, often short pieces tinged with a sense of the inadequacy of knowledge, the ubiquity of loss, and the nagging intimation that we are forever ruled by both. Take 'Crows' nests', perhaps the pamphlet's most accomplished piece:
    Autumn's X-ray reveals them,
    the trees suddenly old,
    the crows gone, spreading.
    
    ...
    
    Now you want to hide away there,
    sleepness nights alone waiting
    
    for the first sight of land,
    the darkness flapping,
    so close to you, so huge.
    
    If Love's collection seems forgivably uneven, ...
    (New Walk 3, Nicholas Friedman)
  • A very satisfying collection is tucked into the pamphlet-sized MOVING PARTS by Tim Love. The poetry is elusive, subtle and rewards several readings. The artist gives an angle on gaining evidence from witnesses for an ID photo. 'We begin with the eyes - the hardest part for me:/ we'll correct them later but she says / that faces grow from the eyes.' Quietly, disturbingly the poem goes on to say 'They're under pressure to make an arrest. The deadline's / soon, so though she's hardly conscious / I have to hurry her ...' The conversational tone runs with fine music, sharp dialogue, character depiction and imagery: ' ... A constable pop his head in, taps his watch. They like my work, / want me to go full time, give up my sunsets ...' The instability of scientific information and its relation to ordinary life appears in Action at a distance: ... The love poem, Sunday in the Egyptian Gallery has a strange, ethereal sense, like a shifting cinematic image: ... A fine intelligent collection.
    (Weyfarers 110, Stella Stocker)
  • Moving Parts, which appears to be Love's first collection, shows that (relatively) late publication can be a good friend to a poet. Tim Love's poems are remarkable for their freight of experience, assured grasp of line, and a poetic sensibility as confident as it is unusual. His originality shines through in 'Giraffe', whose subject is by turns 'failed model', yacht, and in a lurching turn, 'oh god, I've left my handbag'. But Love's vision is both respectful and exact, noting the giraffe's 'birthmark birthmarks'. The originality of the eye provides the final surprise in his poem 'Iron Birds':
    how their vapour trails are like the broadening,
    fading scratches on your lover's back
    
    Sex is one of the liveliest threads in this book, often arriving - like a friend, unannounced - at the end of poems, discreet but unmistakeable.
    The unmistakeable authority of experience can be heard in Love's account of a visit to dying relative with his son, 'Taking Mark this time'. (he writes exceptionally well about children, with clarity, without sentiment: 'You still look just the same to him in this strange bed'.) Sadly unusual in poetry, Love's scientific and technical knowledge pervade his poems, but, like a good friend, never dominate or domineer. Their rewards are lines whose skilled metre is matched by a deep understanding of the measured world: 'all falls obey the same laws of motion'.
    Yet the poem later confides: ' There is still so much we do not know.' Love is skilled at sketching landscapes, but their final details are often unsettled. 'All over the city. alarms are sounding.' Straightforward facts followed by the irrational and elusive, prose, then poetry: 'I shake the sugar sachet before tearing it./Sometimes feeling precedes a reason'.
    Love's ear is equally acute for words and raw sound. In 'The fall', a fascinating poem about change in language, he notes that a fire engine now 'goes wow wow wow' instead of 'hee-haw'. He will, successfully, risk a desperate lyricism: 'death [...] sweeps your petals into heaps.' Boldly and bleakly, he will mention beauty 'only for that moment before the lies'. But his words enter into poetry's intense conversation:' What have you forgotten?' Their ending open, briefly as flowers: 'play the blues', 'It's not too late.' Do poems speak when friends fall silent?
    Before silence, the pamphlet's last poem, 'Crows' nests', takes a remarkable turn, The nests, revealed, typically. for Love, by 'Autumn's X-ray', become masts, viewpoints
    for the first sight of land,
    the darkness flapping,
    so close to you, so huge.
    
    The function of intelligence, in poetry, is to move beyond itself. Tim Love's poems achieve this, beautifully. 'My cleverness runs out', he writes. In the darkness beyond is loss regain, the potent, overwhelming words of a child.
    (Alison Brackenbury, Under the Radar 8, July 2011)
  • The short blurb tells you something vital about the pamphlet: 'His poems challenge perception. Sometimes they aren't what they seem, but then again, they are. They offer themselves like canvasses in a gallery, the white box of the page inviting the reader in. The process is playful and serious and, like all good art, demands no less than absolute attention.' Despite the somewhat Derrida-in-English-translation overtones of this (horresco referens), I almost know what he is suggesting, amongst the plurality of reading, the inevitable slipperiness of language, the Glas-like ambiences, back to the 'white box' of the page: ... ('How we make love') This is one type of poem in the pamphlet. It is a challenging style. Another type demonstrates the precision and tactile immediacy of the poetry: ... ('Escape') The strength of the personae in the pamphlet is the thing that attracts attention, in poems such as 'The Artist', 'Eclipse', 'Odysseus', 'Action at a Distance' and others. I especially enjoyed the somewhat Deconstructively-voiced, Brief Encounter-ish 'Paradox' ... (Acumen 70, Christopher J.P. Smith)
  • In ‘How we make love’, the narrative voice tells us:
         The way synapses alter when we learn
         is adapted from the healing process
         as if our ignorance were once a wound.
         There is still so much we do not know.
    
    And my ignorance of how to fully embrace the more abstract elements of this collection soon began to feel like a wound—a slight deafness or flaw of vision that hindered me from fully engaging with what was being said. Often, I felt as if I was visiting these poems in an American, high security penitentiary. I pressed my fingers on the bullet proof glass and tried to have a conversation . . . but the glass was always there.
    When friends take me to an exhibition of abstract paintings, I stand in front of each one whispering to myself, Don’t look for narrative. Don’t look for narrative, hoping that eventually I will see something I recognise. In Tim Love’s ‘Escape’ I recognised the chaos of Cairo airport where, “more lost air luggage ends up than anywhere else” and I could see myself “shake the sugar sachet before tearing it”. I know the ’”phantom-limbed sadness” and the sky at 3am. Long after I had closed this pamphlet I could hear the music made as the speaker in ‘Escape’ concludes,
         I magnify the moment,
         hold an uncorked bottle to my mouth
         two-handed like a clarinet and play the blues.
    
    I have no idea what the “moon-flavoured sweets” mentioned in ‘Estuary’ taste like but I’ve had great fun imagining. And I have no idea how, in ‘The Fall’, I can be in London and New York on the same autumn day
         . . . and because it’s autumn, London leaves fall
         yellow as cabs.
    
    But I recognise that kind of dichotomy from having seen it before, for example in stanza XIII of Wallace Stevens’ poem ‘Thirteen Ways to look at a Blackbird’:
         It was evening all afternoon
    
         It was snowing 
         And it was going to snow.
    
    And I seem to remember reading somewhere that subatomic particles can be in more than one place at once so maybe readers of poetry can be as well. Again I’ve had huge fun imagining what that might be like.
    Seeing Custer’s name in ‘Fossil expedition’, made me think I knew what to expect. More fool me. Tim Love is skilled in defying and subverting expectations:
         ‘Gotta show the three wise men the way,’ Custer said,
         winking to his lieutenant as he left the fort.
         The scholars were sweating in the morning sun.
    
    They ride silently through the Badlands then the three men dig for hours. At the end of a long day:
         ‘Nice suit you got there, sir,’ said Custer.
         And all the way back he could hear bones rattling in their saddlebags.
    
    To my frustration, I can hear things rattling throughout this pamphlet that I can’t fully understand or grasp firmly enough to fully appreciate. I’ve hammered and hammered on the glass but I just can’t open up a crack.
    In ‘Windmills’ Tim love tells us, "Quixote had no chance." And we all know the flaw was not with the windmills but with the Don. Sadly, if this pamphlet is a windmill, I am the Don.
    (Sue Butler, Sphinx)
  • Tim Love is a writer who grew on me. His collection is held together by its title: Moving Parts is, I think, absolutely apposite. It captures brilliantly the predominant flavour: a melding of science, and heart—to cope, really, with what it is to be human, "the darkness flapping/ so close to you, so huge".
    Love has a wonderful ear. To read him is a pleasure. His words fit together, sentences flow, themselves like a well-oiled machine. And time and again he touchingly pulls together that vast ‘flapping’ system, with the human, personal. He links things. So, in ‘Windmills’, he writes:
         and in Soham on the Fens, I bought a bag of flour
         only hours old, ground by the wind that made
    
         my cycling here so tiring.
    
    What’s most winning, for me, is his really human touch. This builds. I wasn’t so convinced in early poems like ‘Iron birds’ and ‘Giraffe’, lessened for me by an almost macho note. But I was won over by the end. Take ‘The King’, with its one super long sentence flowing from verse to verse. At its core, for me, sings the single line: "he can’t bear to throw away her see-thru shoes".
    Some of Love’s more ‘obvious’ poems are, arguably, his less successful. ‘The artist’, for instance, for me, tries too hard. Similarly - although, of course, it’s touching - ‘Taking Mark this time’ could seem a little obvious for Love at his very best. (That said, this poem’s most abiding image for me—of the young boy’s "doll eyes/ briefly opening", as the poet carries him to bed—has firmly stayed.) Equally, one or two poems were so abstract I couldn’t wring much meaning from them: ‘He understands but he doesn’t love’, for instance. On the whole, though, it’s the way he balances abstract and concrete that works so brilliantly.
    The, for me, pivotal ‘Escape’ starts off slightly unpromisingly with a potentially rather clich├ęd contrast between the luxury of a "last minute break" in a gated haven, and a legless beggar glimpsed outside the enclosure. Love goes on to make this notion entirely his own. Somehow it’s his isolation we feel, sealed in a world he can’t quite get the measure of - just like our own (where "Newton was quite wrong", but "got us to the moon", as he puts it elsewhere).
    In ‘Escape’ he writes: "I dream of a brass doorknob whose dimple/ my thumb always finds". This single image, for me, is the most memorable. What else, then, is there? "I magnify the moment," Love writes,
         hold an uncorked bottle to my mouth
         two-handed like a clarinet and play the blues.
    
    (Charlotte Gann, Sphinx)
  • The title of this collection naturally conjures up images of machinery, but what kind of machine exactly? Having read the 28 poems inside, I can’t help thinking of one of those enormous Heath Robinson-style contraptions, full of weird and wonderful parts, but whose ultimate purpose isn’t always clear.
    Many of the poems take the form of condensed thought experiments. ‘Paradox’ is a good example and short enough to quote in full:
         You haven’t left her, only she moves
         and when she has stopped moving
         it’s as if you left each other
         and it all makes sense on paper
         until the platform moves
         and you are not moving.
    
    Most readers will pick up the allusion to relativity and the idea that a person in motion experiences time differently to one standing still. The poem draws a nice parallel between that scientific abstraction and the emotional reality of waving someone off on a train platform. There’s also the suggestion of a more permanent separation, with the speaker unwilling to accept its reality, but equally unable to deny it.
    The poem doesn’t seek to resolve or explain the paradox of the title, but it successfully transports us ‘into’ the problem. I felt an almost physical sense of disorientation when I got to the closing line. The poem keeps repeating the idea of motion in the words ‘move’ and ‘moving’, but suddenly leaves you standing stock still. It’s very effectively done.
    ‘Paradox’ is typical of the collection in the way it mixes the abstract and the particular, the philosophical and the personal. ‘Forever’ is another example, beginning "A cathedral’s beauty/ is the shared silence", but ending somewhere else entirely:
         sunlight’s momentum
         dragging colour from stained glass
         onto marble; years of believers
         wading through, smoothing tombs;
         how you wake me
         to finish what I thought
         we’d finished the night before.
    
    Elsewhere, we encounter musings about whether strawberries would taste the same if they were blue, and whether the light in the fridge really goes out when you close it. It makes for an intense and rewarding read, where each poem gradually reveals more of itself the harder you look.
    That said, my nagging feeling was that some of the poems remain a little blurry no matter how hard you look. The poet’s mind is so lively and lateral that it’s hard to stay on one train of thought long enough to get anywhere. But even as I write that, I’m reminded of the train paradox above and the warning that things only make sense until you realise they don’t. Maybe the poet knows what he’s doing after all.
    (Nick Asbury, Sphinx)
  • Tim Love's poems are experiences of the world, embodying the moment, the reality; poems that don't exactly go anywhere, but inhabit where they are, while leaping across gaps in a satisfying way: 'of course words aren't the world / but they take us where we want to be' ('Action at a distance' ). The poems themselves aren't at a great distance from the poet and the reader, but there is a detachment from the self as well as the observed scene.
    'Taking Mark this time' is about bringing a son to a dying grandparent, whose condition 'I decode /… /until my cleverness runs out'. Tim Love's is a cleverness that's clever enough to be aware of its limits, and is balanced by a lot of feeling. This includes enjoyment of things being both systematic and personally felt:
    I bought a bag of flour
    only hours old, ground by the wind that made
    my cycling there so tiring. ('Windmills')
    
    'The fall' puts the changes in the world into a pattern for timescale and perspective, with the rate of mutation of chromosomes from which 'we can / recalculate the evolutionary tree', and the rate of linguistic change known to be 1.5% a century; but the scientific is combined with the mythic, including the calculation of biblical creation to October 4004 BC; 'there must once have been / a common tongue, a first kiss'. The crossing-over of perspectives then moves deftly to the divergence of American and English exemplified in fire engine sirens, and we are where 'London leaves fall / yellow as cabs'. (Peter Daniels, Bow-wow shop)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Five events I'm going to next week

Friday, 2 March 2012

Where I'm sending stories, and why

In the last few months I've sent stories to the Commonwealth, HE Bates (Northampton) and Grace Dieu competitions. Now I've sent to Exeter, Bristol, and Nottingham, and once I've bought a toner cartridge will send to Frome, Bridport, Yeovil, and Weckin Writers. It will cost me over 50 quid. Why have I done it?

  • I want to clear the decks. I want to get out of re-write mode and start something new
  • The alternatives aren't always free. For example Narrative magazine charges $20 per submission (except for 2 weeks in April), and Glimmertrain is competition-driven. Magazines that use submishmash sometimes charge $3 to cover costs. And some US magazines still only accept paper submissions, which aren't cheap.
  • I've looked through my old stories and feel that some have been unjustly neglected, or spoilt by a fixable flaw. I've significantly re-touched old ones, expanded/combined some Flash, and have written a new story from scraps.
  • I think getting a prize or getting published in a competition anthology will do at least as much for my writing as a 50 pound course would
  • I entered my local writing group's in-house story competition. 26 entries. I wasn't in the top 10.
  • I thought I was sending loads of stuff off, but I noticed on Writing Stats that in one (admittedly non-typical) year Tania Hershman did 155 submissions and Vanessa Gebbie 75. I've been lazy.
  • The odd acceptance makes it all worthwhile. Here are my most recent 2
    • Wow. Is there much more to say? I can't even imagine putting such a piece together. I can't imagine the time and work you put into it. Incredible. We're all astounded, and we're honored to publish it in our journal!
    • Many thanks for XXX - a real pleasure to type out