Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nigh-No-Place

Frances Leviston’s Guardian review of Jen Hadfield’s second collection, Nigh-no-place, certainly makes it sound worth buying. That final image she mentions would be worth the price on its own, and most of the lines she quotes sparkle with dynamic energy and imagination.

But the review is also refreshing in that it makes a few critical points. So much of what passes for reviewing in newspapers at the moment appears as no more than a gush or a sales pitch, without a hint of critical analysis, but Leviston has succeeded in giving both a flavour of the book’s obvious strengths and a hint at its occasional lapses. That’s a positive sign and, of course, the imperfections don’t at all put me off wanting to read the collection.

17 comments:

trish said...

yep, I've been waiting to read this one too. I've heard Jen read the title poem a couple of times - it's hypnotic and has stayed with me.

Anonymous said...

I've got it, read it, enjoyed it very much.

EL

Anonymous said...

I was pleased to see Jen get such a good review, but I think Frances makes an error in her comment about the rhyming poem - it's a misunderstanding based on stylistic differences rather than a good point about a weakness.

I don't know where you are seeing all these gushing reviews Rob - I still find most reviews of British poetry uninformed, carping, envious and sorely lacking in context.

The American method seems to be to teach young critics to be incisive; here, to be cynical.

Roddy

Cailleach said...

Great review - going to put this on the TBR pile, Jen Hadfield's work sounds very fresh.

Roddy your point about reviewers gives me pause for thought: this is not the first time I have heard that difference expounded. I remember finding on PFFA that US students of English/poetry seem to have a much better honed sense of criticism... I wonder is it a voice thing? Interesting anyway.

Rob said...

Roddy, I keep seeing reviews in national newspapers that sound like sales pitches and nothing more, often written by people who quote only one or two lines and say almost nothing about the text.

I thought FL made a genuine attempt to engage with JH's book, and the fact that she made a few negative comments give more credence to her positive opinions (whether the negative comments are accurate or not).

There is the other side to this too - the vicious hatchet-job. I remember reading a destructive review a while back (in the Guardian, I think) of Mark Haddon's collection. It made the book sound really terrible. I read a few poems from it in a bookshop and it was in no way as deserving of ridicule as the review made it sound. The reviewer clearly had an agenda.

When I read a really good review, I often remember it, which shows how rarely special ones pop up. George Szirtes's Guardian review of a Marilyn Hacker Selected last year was superb, for example. I've enjoyed reading WN Herbert's blog reviews as well - originally from Poetry London, I think.

Rob said...

Barbara, Trish, I've read her first collection, Almanacs, which was idiosyncratic and often astonishing. I'm looking forward to taking a look at the new one, especially after EL's verdict.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear - I thought Frances' review was intuitive and well-written - I disagreed only on one point. My moans were more general ones...

Roddy

Rob said...

Don't worry, Roddy, I understood that.

Rachel Fox said...

On Mark Haddon - someone gave me 'The talking horse...' as a gift (a gift horse?) last xmas. Whilst it's not all, as the some of the kinder poetry magazines say, 'my cup of tea' there is a poem called 'Poets' which was one of my favourite poems of last year. Damn him. All that and the bestselling novel too...Could this be the source of that agenda?
RF

Jen Hadfield & Rogueseeds said...

About that rhyming couplet and alcoholism ( too grim to dress up in metaphor) i just wanted those lines to be bald and bare and unelaborated.

a lot of folk saw Almanacs as cryptic; I've never aspired to be a cryptic poet. So I wanted to try to lean the other way a little.

I'm all in agreement with Frances about the volatility of the poetry anyway. It was a really hard book to get focussed.

How's it going with The Clown, Rob?

apprentice said...

I heard her read from this at Stanza last year, and really enjoyed her set. It's on my purchase/wish list.

Rob said...

Rachel, I really liked Mark Haddon's "The Dog..." novel. I'm not too sure about his poetry either, but the brutality of the review was unjustified.

Jen, nice to hear from you! Yes, some sections from Almanacs were difficult to grap - for me, at least. But it was an absorbing read, one of the most interesting collections around in the last few years. The Clown is doing OK, selling in trickles even after all this time, but still not quite sold out.

Apprentice - yes, that was a good reading.

Rob said...

difficult to "grap"? I mean "grasp", of course, but "grap" should be a word.

Jen Hadfield & Rogueseeds said...

meaning to scrape to tearing the skin or fabric on grappling your way over sharp rocks on the shore maybe...

Rachel Fox said...

Grap....doesn't that mean a really long awkward pause in a conversation?
Rachel

Rob said...

It seems as though others have beaten us to it. Here, Grap is a language, although not one I ever hope to learn.

And here, Grap is whatever it is (and for anyone who understands this, I hope it’s not in too bad taste).

Anonymous said...

'Grap': expression of dismay used by frogs and toads; for example, when spying a potential mate disappearing into a pond.

ABJ