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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Guest Review: Walsh On Swift

The Irish poet and writer, Niall Walsh, currently based in Hungary, has sent in his reading of Mainstream Love Hotel.  With transparency (I wrote the book) let me offer it here to those who might find it of interest:

Niall Walsh reviews
Mainstream Love Hotel
by Todd Swift

The first theme that emerged for me was one concerning water. The opening poem 'Mirror' presents us with the platonic question of reality: which is real, the shadow or the substance? Are we to believe in the paddlers in the boat, or their shadows reflected in the water? The answer comes in the final line of the poem, "the sister of knowing is making". This reflects Yeats's resolution of the dilemma of body and soul in 'Among School Children' "how can we know the dancer from the dance?". In 'Seaway Park' the act of swimming becomes a form of delving into one's past, to retrieve the unresolved issues of our childhood. The final line of the poem "light in water is time forgot" adds another dimension of time to Eliot's time past, present, and future, namely "time forgot". 'Now the rain's my only reader' shows us water, not as a reflector of reality, or as a repository of memory, but as a sort of purging ablution "breaking its fever" and restoring a voice to the parched throat, and also restoring the "dry salvages", another Eliotian reference.


Often intersecting the theme of water is that of light. In 'Skylon' the sun "uncovered by MI5" makes London "almost human". London light hitting the pavement in 'After the cinema' serves only to reveal the crudeness and menace of the city, "Light as a weapon then".

The third section of the book introduces aspects of time, often arising from contemplation of water and light. 'Late history' presents us with time as felt by an ailing figure at the window, unable to participate, only to observe. The world beyond the glass is no longer to be joined, "Who will speak for the tired times?" In the Larkinian 'These days' time is redeemed by experiencing it through manageable days, rather than through vast and nebulous concepts of past, present, future and eternity. The goals set long ago are unimportant now, what matters are "these days of you and me". The places where meaning comes through specific events, such as the unloading of fish from the boats, and a night of passion fulfilled. The fisherman also bears "days that were in the sea", reflecting the retrieval of memory carried out in 'Seaway park'.

On a more personal level we have poems reflecting the passing of the father, and what that says about the nature of our own existence. 'Letter of the law' places our little gestures of life in the context of "the greater cursive hand" that consigns us all to oblivion. The poem concludes that it is better to exist and suffer, than not to exist at all, "since pain at least implies a mind or body remaining to suffer". In 'Dream father' the father returns in dreams like the ghost of Hamlet's father - a mute and disturbing figure that still has unresolved issues that only the living can resolve. The torment of a life ended, but not completed, haunts and castigates the poet who "cannot forgive the lonely death you had". Perhaps the great unanswered question of the poem is 'who cannot be forgiven?'

Other notable poems in the collection include 'November' which contemplates the futility of creating and continuing in a context of decline. Man and machines lash the air "with threshing, actions, much shouting", but "Over all is a present sense that this is a tableau, false, will end". 'Love in a time of inflation' shows us a world in which all communication is digitised, where love is just a form of currency, and where "no lions roar in the mountains anymore". We are defined by our clothes and gestures, not by the secrets of our souls, "If we smile and agree, we are good: if we frown and snarl, we are foreign". In 'Light Sweet Crude' oil shares become the ultimate arbitrer of value and worth, up and down, real and unreal. The language of futures and commodities flows through our belief systems like the progress of black oil itself.

review by Niall Walsh
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