martedì 19 marzo 2013
SHARON OLDS – STAG’S LEAP – CAPE – 2012 I repeat: not a review just a set of personal and likely off the mark reactions. “My husband, my ex-husband, my then husband, my ex, him, he.... ” and then “my friend” several times. Comes to be very twee. Almost at the end, I am getting irritable with and irritated by this book. The husband who left comes across as a real jerk in distinctly two dimensions and the despairing wife as simply far too good to be true, i.e., a real jerk as well. Any situation, phrase or deed is a great excuse to muse about him again. Ok, catharsis, but it does seem so contrived at times. I can’t help having the impression of a Sunday School teacher saying naughty words (no offence, Ms. Olds, but you actually do read poetry like a Sunday School teacher): she misses him, misses sex with him, misses cutting his hair... but for god’s sake couldn’t she just have been a bit pissed off and angry once in a while? A wee bit more human? A few neat turns of phrase and some nice images, padded out with lots of trundling about: it seems to be chest-beating, revelatory but on closer looks they are set pieces in full creative writing syndrome. Ms. Olds has a fine reputation and this book has won a major prize, so I’m reluctant to use words like “insincerity” and “shallow” – but, there, I’ve used them. I’ll give it another go and report back. PS. Can now add "my once husband" and "my young husband" to the list, plus another "my friend"... making it all sound like mundane and rather trivial letters to an Agony Aunt. Pity, because there is some good poetry in there at times only it gets bogged down, weighed down by this "goody two shoes" style. Admit it, Sharon, you hated him at least once, wanted to kill him at least once, felt abused at least once... PPS. There's a sensation that the cellophane wrapping is never completely opened.
Bad Machine – George Szirtes – Bloodaxe – 2013 This is not a review. I am not really qualified to do reviews. It is merely a set of thoughts and responses to a first reading of Mr. Szirtes’ lastest book. Szirtes is rather like a Master of Ceremonies, present everywhere, more or less intrusively: “You don’t like this one, well, try this, it may be more to your liking. No? Too jaunty? Here’s a dirge. Don’t like free verse? This one rhymes.” There’s a conjuring act going on with rabbits popping out and every expectation that Tommy Cooper will appear “just like that”. I mean this very affectionately. There is real inventiveness here, in abundance. And a lot of hard graft and craft. Bad Machine itself is based on a scheme repeated in several other poems: certain words are repeated endlessly, in a rather shamanic way, to create a kind of chant, spell or charm. Rhyming these sets of words (“blow” as in air or impact or setback, etc.) creates a dirge-like tone that is generally very appropriate to the subject matter. The graft and craft lies in the fact that this is hardly ever tedious: the beauty is that the same word has many different meanings that are exploited to the full in the rhyme pattern. The rhyme emphasises the different meanings and this ensures constant shifts in perspective and even surprises when an unusual one comes to the fore. The craft and graft also lies in easily worn scholarship. I found strong echoes of MacNeice, who equally and always sought new and different verse forms, rhymes and patterns. Certain audacious rhymes inevitably bring Byron to mind (settle us-nautilus), or the flexible, loose sonnets of Walcott in White Egrets. (These are my responses and not necessarily Szirtes’ influences). Szirtes also has something to say. Commentary on modern life (the London riots given a jolly outing in a ballad style that delightfully contrasts the serious business going on), personal reflections and philosophical argumentation. There is depth without being obscure, a joy in language and fullness of life that at last shows that poetry can be beautiful and still deal sincerely with ugly issues. A fine balancing trick where even the occasional failure (as in MacNeice) only goes to show how good all the rest really is. Definitely on my re-reading list soon.