Lake Effect, Tim Craven
Tapsalteerie, 2019 £5.00
When the reader feels it’s personal
Hey — this is a good poet, a debut worth noticing. The title poem ‘Ode to Lake Effect’ illustrates that nicely, with its ‘brilliance / of hands in bobble hats’ and ‘erasures of the beautiful // by the beautiful, versions of water, / versions of cold folded like A4 card’.
And I won’t forget the one about the day he snagged his sister’s eye with a fishing fly (‘Stormfront’).
But most of all I will remember the one about me.
He didn’t mean it to be about me, of course. I expect (though I don’t know) he is twenty-something, and to him people in their sixties are distant and old as I once thought my father was when he died at 61.
But the poem in which he gets personal, ‘Neuroanatomy Practical’, is good. Precision of phrasing (for example, ‘the fissure of a temporal lobe’) allows me to visualise vividly how the poet takes a skull in his hand and examines it. It’s a skull whose lobes were certainly temporal, since the inhabitant is long away.
But no, she isn’t, Tim Craven. She is reading your poem:
When she (sixty-six, Caucasian, lymphoma)
donated it to science, was this the promised
afterlife? You consider biting into it
as you would a peach — and, were it not
for the bleach-like stench of toxic preservative,
Craven doesn’t know my age (sixty-six) or that I am Caucasian and female. He doesn't know I share other details with the dead woman too. Like her, I have some ‘self-taught Italian’, ‘tomato soup recipes’ and take ukulele (not oboe) ‘lessons’.
The poet intends me to identify with the speaking voice, the ‘you’. But I identify with the skull.
Needless to say, most readers won’t experience the poem like this. For them, this lady will be distant and different, dead of a cancer they don’t have, decades older.
But sometimes in poems there is a detail you relate to uncomfortably closely. Should poets bear this in mind when being beautifully precise? The only thing I don’t have yet is lymphoma — so far as I know.
Indeed, I hope I don’t. Not least because Tim Craven writes rather too well. I don’t like the idea of his thumb ... fidgeting over my fissures.