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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Mini-Reviews: Elliott, Lindenberg, Johnson

1. MORTALITY RATE by Andrew Elliott

Published by CB Editions; buy here.
Reviewed by Jon Stone

Mortality Rate contains an abundance of the kind of pieces that are really half poem, half something else. The something else in this case is seedy, surreal, almost noir-ish microfiction, taking place at night, in cities and liminal spaces, in Europe and America. Long, loping lines abound, sex is handled in a kind of rough, frank way, and the same pair of female characters turn up in multiple poems, stripped to various states. It’s a very generous volume, written mostly in a voice that delights in taking winding detours. Highly recommended for quiet winter nights with a whisky.

2. LOVE, AN INDEX by Rebecca Lindenberg

Published by McSweeney’s; buy here.
Reviewed by Ian Chung

Since its founding in 1998 by Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s has grown into a publishing empire in its own right, with flagship literary journal Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern being joined by other titles like the monthly The Believer, food quarterly Lucky Peach and sport journal Grantland Quarterly. One of the publishing house’s most recent imprints is the McSweeney’s Poetry Series, of which Rebecca Lindenberg’s Love, an Index is the first title. The collection chronicles Lindenberg’s relationship with fellow poet Craig Arnold, who disappeared in 2009 during a solo hike in Japan. A strong debut for Lindenberg and the series, Love, an Index embraces the elegy form, and in poems like ‘Status Update’ and ‘Status Update (2)’, reworks it for the Facebook generation. The standout moment of the collection, however, is the titular sequence that occupies the middle third of the book. An alphabetical indexing of Lindenberg and Arnold’s relationship, the poems are brutally beautiful, ruthlessly detailing minutiae in the wake of her loss. Joining other poetry collections about losing a partner like Douglas Dunn’s Elegies and Paul Monette’s Love Alone: 18 Elegies for Rog, Lindenberg’s Love, an Index shows the mind of the poet at work, transmuting personal tragedy into powerful art.


Published by the Hansel Cooperative Press; buy here.
Reviewed by Harry Giles

Treeds is one of a small but rich crop of chapbooks from Hansel Co-operative Press, a small-scale outfit publishing and promoting writing and art of Orkney and Shetland. Printed on good thick stock and gorgeously hand-finished, the chapbook is pocket-sized but big-hearted. The writing is vernacular Shetlandic – not a synthetic Scots, but a language very much alive and rooted in place and culture. The fine glossary is a neat guide to those new to the language, though not burdensome or pedantic, making the poems an excellent route into Shetlandic for those willing to put in some small effort.

The poems cover family and livelihood, land and water; the title piece (meaning “threads”) describes a weaving together of place and person into a poetics of sense and feeling. The unrhymed lines advance in breaths, matching the everyday language used; the sense is of being given stories and wisdom honed by time and wind, though never is this hoary or slight. The tone is as much humorous as delicate, and often very sad in its simplicity – as in Gynae Ward:

                “Nae prenk, damned little pent,
                nae comouflage,

                Here da oppenin bud, da faded leaf,
                da prunin shears.”

Pamphlet publishing is a source of diversity in contemporary poetry, and local presses a way to meet outlying poetics on their own terms. Treeds is a long way – in style and language – from what you're likely to find in more urban-centred anthologies and magazines, and so, along with Hansel's wider output, demands your attention for its particular music and beauty.

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