Here is my first review of a poetry collection. I hope it reads well.
Savvy and contemporary new Sydney-based publishers Pitt Street Poetry recently brought to the world Tim Cumming's new collection Etruscan Miniatures in a stylish, eye-catching and easily-portable volume that may well define the future size of chapbooks. It also retails for a very affordable $10 through the PSP website. Tim, who was brought up in the west country of England, has written six poetry collections prior to this.
The twelve poems within Etruscan Minatures celebrate Tim's recent stay in a luxury hotel in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy, yet the poems don't examine little shampoo bottles, Egyptian bed linen, buffet breakfasts and how attentive the hotel staff were. Tim turns from first world luxuries and the insubstantial, to face the cosmos, the importance of friends, fish bones in limestone, time and... David Bowie. It takes several rereads of the poems to soak up the intention and layers of Tim's concept. And then you need to reread once more. I'm not sure if this then equates to 'successful' work.
Form seems not to be hugely important to Tim. You will not find concrete poems or haiku here. He is more interested in unearthing the great rush of Italian experience in free verse, as if we are in that Umbrian hotel pool, having gallons of white wine poured on us or staring at nearby tufa columns during a tempest (these tufa accompany the poems in paintings composed by Tim). Full stops appear to be his enemy. The effect of this word-rush is enthralling, yet exasperating. Surface Depth is a case in point, a ten line sentence using a Beat Generation expressiveness:
Claire praised raindrops exploding
on the surface of the pool, plunging in
deep to life beyond reason, describing
the colours of impact and submission
pinning them plain to a wall in a fifth
floor apartment, no balcony, in Budapest...
In this excerpt from the poem, we have Claire (?) drinking in raindrops and colour, but it all seems forced, ambiguous. I was left wondering what the point was. The phrase raindrops exploding seemed overwritten. How does one pin colour to a wall? And what are the colours of impact? I can only think black and blue and red! Maybe, I just needed to accept this flow and go with it, rather than break it apart, try to dissect it.
Tim does description and imagery expertly (98% of the time). In this collection we have children dancing as if they were antlered (I envisioned something vivid from Dr Seuss or Where The Wild Things Are)... a blurred fire of generosity... a lighter trailing a flare of gold over moonbulbs of garlic... frescoed selves on the slope through the trees... he strode out of the woods with Saturn in his mountainous hands... Toscano grapes, cool conductors of white lightning... we're staring up at Umbrian night sky watching fast stars stir the drunken cranium... dream lyricism, stuff of the Romantics.
However, I did feel smiling watermelon was the wrong description for a watermelon carried up a hill and not yet sliced, in Watermelon. As much as I could, I couldn't go with this image and battled with the personification. The watermelon was cut up and eaten later: perhaps it was joyous at the news it could fulfil human hunger... Perhaps, I've lost the plot, encountered a 'pip-fall'.
Etruscan Miniatures finishes with the piece Exposure featuring a Roman frieze showcasing the sexy buttocks of a centurion in its final lines. This centurion is turning against the writhing of the sun. I'm not sure why? Is the sun overbearing, something that will overexpose us? Why does the centurion have a problem with the sun? Although an unexpected, naturalistic image, the sexy buttocks had me perplexed, and unsure how to react to the poem as a whole. Was this bathos cum humour Tim was ending things with, some statement on our naked selves? It felt unnecessarily camp, twee, oddball. There were other more potent images in Etruscan Miniatures Tim could've left the reader.
Overall, Cumming's writing is polychromatic, built for a widescreen, heady, ambitious, memorable in part, heavy-handed, confusing. As soon as I finished my first reading, I Googled the Umbrian hotel and landscape depicted and instantly wanted to spend a week off where Tim had holidayed - that's got to say something.
I very much look forward to Pitt Street Poetry's next venture. They are publishing challenging works.
LJ, October 22 2012