Wednesday 15 February 2012


Been considering poetry, and what I like and why. So - I enjoy poems that don’t let you go - ones that keep asking their questions, making you puzzle at them, even when they are couched in perfectly lucid language. I can’t be doing with poetry where the poet is standing in front waving a red flag, shouting about their erudition. I prefer clean, lucid language - and in the end, the success of those poems relies on originality of vision. Anyone can swallow a thesaurus and play at word-jigsaws. NOT anyone can ‘see’ in an interesting engaging way.
Take Tim Love’s ‘Moving Parts’, published in 2010 by Happenstance. Tim’s writing intrigues, and delivers over and over again, as each time the poems give up new twists, because he sees things in a way that fascinates me (and him, one assumes!). I sometimes take this collection with me on train journeys - it always gives up something I hadn’t noticed before.

I’m not happy reviewing poetry - and the reasons for that may be found here on Happenstance blog - Instead, I asked Tim if he’d talk about one of the pieces I like most - a poem called ‘Escape’.

Here is the poem, reprinted with permission: (with my choice of image)


As you backstroke in the hotel's outdoor pool,
your blue eyes look like holes.
I notice by the perimeter
a legless man on a skateboard slurping a lolly.
It's a last-minute break from snow's routine to Cairo,
where more lost air-luggage ends up than anywhere else.

We cool off reading in the bar's ticking wickerwork,
the Gaggia's chshsh like rush-hour airbrakes.
Persian architects fled here from Mogol raids,
bringing their blue temple domes painted with stars.
Nile crocodiles are colourblind, they can't see blue,
but I can see the legless man's still staring through the gate.

I shake the sugar sachet before tearing it.
Sometimes feeling precedes a reason, a phantom-limbed sadness,
just stratospheric dust refracting, evening suddenly falling.
They've proved that lab rats dream of their mazes.
I dream of a brass doorknob whose dimple
my thumb always finds.

It's 3am. The night sky listens in awe
to the symphony of what it must do.
The moon's a black and white flashback
perfecting the city's form. I magnify the moment,
hold an uncorked bottle to my mouth
two-handed like a clarinet and play the blues.

VG: Tim, this is my favourite poem in 'Moving Parts' and is one I keep going back to
again and again, and not just because it is in the middle!

TL: ‘Escape’ has received the most attention - it's pivotal according to one reviewer. It has the most-quoted lines too. It was written years before I visited Egypt though (in 2001) and appeared in Seam. Don't know how many of the questions I'll be able to answer though.

Here is an old and rather literal movie of the poem.

VG: No problems, and thats great to see - surprising, really - and yes, very literal. It is nice to hear it read by the writer - and a surprise - the first stanza is completely different - some of the same images but in a different order. Memo to self - ask about that later. But Hmm - would you prefer starting with another poem? I'm glad others have picked this one, in a way - it validates something in the way I'm seeing/appreciating poetry - although quite what, I'm not sure. 
Without pre-empting the questions that might arise, themes of otherness might surface.  the world experienced as through a window, distanced. Or the way you return to philosophical conundrums like 'is the light off when the door is shut' - or 'strawberries wouldn't taste like strawberries if they are blue' (from another piece here) - and indeed the colour blue itself, which recurs through the collection, in a few places.  

TL: These seem valid to me, tendencies I'm often aware of. Working in an Engineering dept while writing poetry, and being a monoglot in a bilingual house add to the distancing effect (and, perhaps, having a happy childhood so I felt free to wander from the security of the familiar).
Writing programs increases the sense of language not being transparent. Eyes are only windows, if that.
I read recently a quote saying that philosophy shows what's possible and science shows what's true. I don't understand most recent philosophy, but I like the thought-experiments that arise.
Blue used to be my favourite colour, but I think I'm shifting to ochre.

VG: That could well be a line from another Tim Love poem. And I’d love to know why the opening stanza is different now - I prefer the original - or at least, the one in the collection. Not sure why. But what made you change it?

and second question, my favourite lines in the whole thing are 

“............The night sky listens in awe
to the symphony of what it must do.”

I’d like to ask you, did those lines come easy, or slow?

TL: Oops. I thought I had sent you the booklet copy. Guess it must have been modified during the editing process. Helena Nelson might well have proposed the published version, and I agreed to it.
As for the lines, I think they came quick but ended up in my notebook for a while before becoming part of a poem. I've scanned bits from 5 different pages of some old notebooks. See the attached files. Well, you asked for it.

VG: Really interesting, Tim - I asume though, that you dont want these snippets all included - or do you - it would be fascinating to see how the images meld. 

TL: Up to you. As a game (Oulipo writers do that sort of thing) one can try replacing the lines from my notebook where they appear in the poem with the next line in the notebook.

VG: Great - so here they are:

and actually, on Litrefs, Tim referred to his notebooks before - here - I love seeing what goes on behind the scenes. It is a fear of mine that with our reliance on computers we will lose these glimpses into the working mind of a writer as we may lose access to the notes. (And to edits. Although that’s a digression - maybe a poet works more on paper than prose writers?)
So - if you consider this poem now - (the published version - although I might well, if you are happy, include the different first stanza too...) can you see why readers are intrigued by it? And are you still intridued by these images and thoughts yourself?

TL: I like some of the individual images, and sometimes 2 or more of the images work together (nice bits don't often make nice wholes of course; "Hey Jude, let it be yesterday" wouldn't be much of a song). I don't recall how the images came to be associated - I often lay down a bassline of imagery before I start filling in the gaps with narrative. I'm not always in control of the collage/narrative mix. Looking at the mess of the notebooks it's a surprise that anything coherent comes out of them. Needles in haystacks.

VG: Do you think  when we use something that we noted because we found it intriguing, it 'puts it to bed' and stops the wondering?

TL: Yes. Not so much the wondering as the restlessness. Sometimes when I read an old story of mine I begin to believe that it's autobiographical - the words fit, even if they don't fit the historical truth. So it's finished. With poetry the feeling of not wanting to change a text usually comes from a more aesthetic source. The analogy I've used in the past is cricket. If the fielders are well positioned, the ball won't escape to the boundary. The fielders are words - they can be quite sparse, but they can contain the batsman if they understand him. Move a word and the poem leaks.

VG: I like the cricket analogy - but how does it work if there are two versions of the first stanza? which one leaks, from your point of view??

TL: The version in the magazine was:

Away from the routine of snow into Islam's rebellion,
the Koran's ripe bananas replacing Tell's apple,
and it's not that more lost air luggage ends up in Cairo
than anywhere else, or the staring, legless man
on a skateboard slurping a lolly, but as you backstroke
in the hotel pool your blue eyes look like holes.

The version in draft 4 of the booklet was

A last-minute break from snow's routine to Cairo,
where more lost air-luggage ends up
than anywhere else. In the street a legless man
on a skateboard slurps a lolly
as you backstroke in the hotel pool,
your blue eyes looking like holes.

I think the final booklet version was

As you backstroke in the hotel's outdoor pool,
your blue eyes look like holes.
I notice by the perimeter
a legless man on a skateboard slurping a lolly.
It's a last-minute break from snow's routine to Cairo,
where more lost air-luggage ends up than anywhere else.

I can't recall the discussion about the changes, only that it was initiated by the editor, and she did a re-write that I suspect I mostly took onboard.

Line 2 of the original now seems misjudged-viz:
the Koran's ripe bananas replacing Tell's apple,
- it's true enough in itself but what has William Tell got to do with anything? The final version's "I notice by the perimeter" seems a flat line to me, and the transitions don't really work - from striking image, to gazing around, to scene-setting and Trivial Pursuits. The opposite way - zooming in - seems better, "like holes" being the stanza's punchline. But at least the final version quickly introduces the characters, which readers often prefer. The other versions don't have an 'I' at all, which is more characteristic of me, I think.

VG:Thanks, Tim - it is intriguing to see the editorial process alongside the writers own creative one. Another question: Who is the poem addressed to?

TL: When I used to workshop poems by e-mail with a small group of poets I found I was writing poems for (i.e. to impress) that readership. Nowadays I don't often workshop poems online, but I try some poems out at a monthly, local workshop I attend. That audience is less of an influence. Some people say that a poem always has an implied addressee. The "You" in this poem isn't my wife (my poetry irritates her), and besides, "You" disappears. "You" is more likely a future, more poetically alert, version of myself.

VG: Anything else you'd like to add? what are you working on now, for example?

TL: A second poetry pamphlet is doing the rounds. I'm about to finalize the contents of a prose pamphlet with "Nine Arches Press".

VG: Great - I shall look forward to that. Thanks for visiting, Tim, and for putting up with my rambly unfocussed questions - it just goes to show how slippery this thing called poetry is. And we never got round to philosophy or themes of loss - such is conversation. It takes its own shape.

‘Moving Parts’ costs just £4.00 and can be ordered from Happenstance.

If you’d like to read a rather good essay on ‘Moving Parts’ please visit writer Jim Murdoch’s blog, The Truth About Lies. Jim does a close analysis of the poems linking them back to extracts from Tim’s literary essays.

for other reviews of Moving Parts, Tim collates them for us neatly, on ‘Litrefs’.

Tim Love was born in Portsmouth in 1957 just round the corner from Dickens' birthplace. After writing a computer game (Tim Loves Cricket) he decided to do a Masters in Software Engineering. Prior to that he apparently worked at Southsea's South Parade Pier and Shippams Meat Paste Factory. Between 1980 and 1983 Tim travelled the globe visiting India, Morocco, France, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Eire, Scotland, Italy, Wales, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain. He wrote his first web page in 1993 and has been active online ever since. He lives in Cambridge with his Italian wife, Mariella, and bilingual children, teaching others how to program.
His poetry and prose has appeared in many magazines. He won Short Fiction's inaugural competition in 2007.


  1. Huge thanks. All but one of the poems in the pamphlet was previously published in mags, so it's a sort of small-press anthology. Without the magazine editors, the pamphlet wouldn't have appeared.
    I hope Escape doesn't come over as an anthology of lines.

  2. You are a great supporter of the small presses - what goes around comes around, or something.

    'Escape' is fascinating - and equally fascinating (for this writer, anyway) is gaining insight into the creative process that made it.
    Who knows why we find snippets interesting enough to want to record them? Who knows why they then find a place, and fit into a sequence that pleases us, in prose or poetry? And who can explain really, why the sequence then 'speaks' to someone else?
    Maybe we don't need to analyse too much - just enjoy.
    Thank you for your patience!