Thursday, 1 May 2008

Kinked and tangled: Tiffany Atkinson's 'Kink and Particle'

I've been rereading a first book that was highly recommended to me a while back, Tiffany Atkinson's Kink and Particle (Seren, 2006). I've posted a proper review here on my website.
I have three main problems with this book. Her 'voice', her metaphor abuse and her endings.

She writes in that hip, sassy, streetwise voice that seems to be the current default voice of any female poet past puberty and pre-menopause. And as a stance gets boring pretty quickly. It just doesn't work for more than a couple of poems. (I'll give it to her for 'Photo from Belfast', but no more.) It becomes a really irritating mannerism.

She also has a habit of clogging up the stanzas with similes and metaphors until the reader glazes over. She rarely just 'describes' something, which is a pity, because some of her metaphors are brilliant – my tongue's a husband in a dress-shop ('In This One') is exactly right, as is drops [of blood] like pomegranate seeds, caught on her cuff ('Acts of Devotion'). But in the fifteen lines of 'Ynyslas', she crams the roof's black keys, with the soft flesh-bells of cattle, and the boatyard's dirty beats, plus synaptic crack of cock-crow, plus the sky's live tissue, and a havoc of sun. Possibly she was aiming for "intoxicating", but what she achieved was "intoxicated". And maybe it's just me, but some of her metaphors are too bizarre. One thing that writing haiku teaches you is that a too-clever metaphor risks supplanting the poem's internal cohesion with an awareness of the poet's cleverness. So I'm not sure what I'm meant to do in response to a metaphor like I work my cigarette like pornography ('Only so many ways') or we stretch from our vehicles like molluscs ('Nine Miles Stationary'). Applaud? Throw her a fish?

She also goes too many times for the Duffy ending – clipped. Telegraphic. Deliberately downbeat. Death. A Chardonnay hang-/ over. Heels. A damn good haircut. ('Nia, June 16'), or Brew/ dodgy wines come autumn. Laugh. Grow fat. ('No Warning'). But where Duffy uses this to underscore something that has been subtext in the poem, Atkinson has it undermine any depth the poem has managed to assemble. And it becomes yet another mannerism – you barely need to read the last two lines. You know how she'll say it, and the what will almost certainly be a recap of something already stated.

Ultimately it's probably a matter of personal preference. And the poems that I really liked – 'Tea', 'Photo from Belfast', 'Baby Sitting' and 'Paddling' – can't do enough to make the book matter to me.

Here's the test: having paid for it with my own money, if I left it by accident on a park bench, would I go back to look for it? And the answer is No.

No comments: