Friday, January 22, 2010

Mainstream Love Hotel & Other Books

This week sees a lot of books flying in my letterbox. I've been reading Mainstream Love Hotel, Todd Swift's latest offering, and bought copies of Elizabeth Bishop's Collected, Robert Lowell's Life Studies, Wallace Steven's Collected - and The New York Poets anthology from Carcanet, while I was at it, because I wanted Frank O'Hara's work all in the one place - in fact that was why I bought the others, so that I can more easily refer to them as I want, instead of rooting about at the various Nortons stashed away (besides, I had a book clear-out, enabling me to buy some... oh, you know how it is with a book-sickness!).

Anyhow, back to MLH from tall-lighthouse - all week I've been reading this, as well as catching up on new episodes of Mad Men (we're a few weeks ahead of the UK - bless RTE). One seems to compliment the other in a weird connected way: smart, sophisticated, sexy, psyco-analytical, egotistical, and old-school with a new-twist this book plays with you, toys with you, right from the opener, 'Mirror', with its cryptic ending, 'The sister of knowing is making.'

In fact, there's a wonderful playfulness about the whole book, a lightness that carries each poem's deeper layered sense, as in 'The talking cure,' which is also one of my favourite poems in the collection: yes, 'Bold. / Bad Baby' indeed. There's also a wonderful facility with language, again playful and fizzing, as in 'French poem,' where the sonics gleefully bounce down the lines from 'Elle' to 'Eiffel' and on to 'Zola' and then 'novel.' Stylish, sexy and smart? Yes. But there's great grist in there too, and a wonderful joie-de-vivre, no doubt because of Swift's Canadian background, and varied European living experiences.

And there's a waryness too in his work: 'These days,' again another well-wrought sonic and rhythmically cadenced poem balances each of its phrases carefully carrying the poem's motion softly down the page:

These are the days
not other days
these are the days I was
working towards
as other further weeks,
working for days
that now I see have come in,
fish from the street

sold fresh, the man
in his whites, ringing to bring
fish just off the boats,
days that were in the sea

...

I'd thought to have my work
done by now, to have reached

the goals set out long ago,
I won't get there now

But you must read the book to reach the poem's shimmering conclusion!

Known as a tireless promoter of poetry wherever he has travelled in the past, Swift now lives in London where he continues finding and pushing new (and established) poetic talent in his Oxfam Marylebone reading series. I think Mainstream Love Hotel sees a sure move forward from the previous Seaway: New & Selected from Salmon Poetry, which spanned a twenty year writing career. It's great to see his work becoming available to a broader audience and it will be interesting to watch the trajectory of his next twenty poetic years.

8 comments:

Rachel Fenton said...

At last, a "These Days" to knock Bon Jovi's tosh out of my head...but seriously, it's very understated and so easy to miss what a strong poem that is. I hadn't read him before but have just googled and read a few things, all of which I am immediately taken with, so thank you. It's like finding someone you're attracted to is also a nice person, and then discovering they like the same things you do, and then...well, you have to fall a little in love with a poem and some are just easier to love than others...

Michael Farry said...

I check Todd Swift's blog but haven't read any of his book yet. This one sounds a must read. Good luck with the Americans, I read some Lowell, Stevens, Crane last year. A little Lowell is great. Also Berryman, quite impressed with Dream Songs.

BarbaraS said...

Yes Michael, Berryman is on my list to get as well, have read from Dream Songs and was similarily impressed.

Rachel, glad you like the sound of it, I hope you and Michael invest, I think you'll enjoy it!

Kay McKenzie Cooke. said...

Swift's book sounds fascinating Barbara. Must keep an eye out. Some good poetry reading there for you to wallow in!

BarbaraS said...

Good stuff, Kay, well worth it. I@m now reading Michael Donaghy's last collection, Safest. Gorgeous.

A Cuban In London said...

Loved the poem, especially the quotidian and mundane elements of it. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

BarbaraS said...

Hey CiL, thanks for dropping in. That's what I liked too - a sneaky poem making us reappraise language :)

apprentice said...

Thanks for the introduction to Swift. The fish van makes me think of my MIL sheltered housing complex - they get paged by tannoy when it arrives!

And enjoy the other books, always good to clear space for new acquisitions. I like Bishop a lot, but I always imagine her as being very arch and rather scary.