Thursday, 23 May 2013

Unexpected Body Combinations

 I was immensely pleased to come across a first review of Human Form this week in the Los Angeles Review of Books, part of an excellently-written piece on recent British debuts by Lytton Smith:


It's as close to feeling "This is the reason I write" as it gets when someone seems to understand and intuit what you were trying to do as accurately as Lytton Smith seems to have done in his analysis of Human Form; in fact - as I'm always loathe to offer interpretations of my own work (since in a way if I knew what the poem meant I wouldn't have had to go to the lengths of writing it - as another poem about poetry says "What's made of it/I waive") - he explains it far better than I could do and in passages like the following perfectly sums up what (only semi-consciously) I was hoping/groping to articulate:

  'Human Form', the book’s title poem, reconfigures the child’s appearance in its parents’ bed as “a cubist scrum” within and into which “we struggle into consciousness / like a many-limbed Lakshmi.” This “new / configuration” unfolds in a triplet of sestets whose ragged lines are the unexpected body combinations, the “ruffled, parodic / Trinity” of human forms. Behind the ostensible neatness of British poetic form, just as behind the castle-like British home, we find something rather more difficult to parse.

   I also greatly admire the general thrust of Smith's argument (the other debuts he looks at are by Emily Berry, Heather Phillipson and Warshan Shire) which holds these quite disparate British volumes as evidence for an American readership that we've moved decisively beyond the "dreary, disheartening" conservatism that UK was formerly dogged with (and still is in certain quarters) eg. "the careful prosody retailed by the major houses (especially Faber) run[ning] the gamut from the quotidian to the banal by way of the Minor Epiphany"(GC Waldrep's words). If this new adventurousness is characterised, as Smith says,by "a stumbling-upon experience and trying to make something of it ... autobiographical, and biographical, and found, but all at a glance or aslant... it is idiomatic to its immediate cultural geography in the way William Carlos Williams also was to his", we are certainly on the right lines.

   At a time when it's sometimes said that poetry reviews no longer much matter and have little impact on book-sales, and when your ability to advertise yourself on Facebook and Twitter is supposed to be a measure of your worth as a writer, it's reassuring to read a review that's so insightful, well-thought-through and composed with it's own inventive care for language - futhermore, one that argues so persuasively and so positively for the burgeoning health of British poetry.

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