Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

HappenStance Press, 2010    £4.00

Reviewed by Sue Butler, Charlotte Gann and Nick Asbury

Sue Butler:
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.


Charlotte Gann:
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 clichéd 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.


Nick Asbury:
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.