Most of the poetry I read nowadays is online, but I do work my way through the odd poetry book too. This is the first book review I’ve published on this blog.
Paul Farley‘s The Dark Film (London: Picador 2012) is a shortish collection, running to 55 pages. It was a Poetry Book Society Choice and has been shortlisted for the 2012 T S Eliot Prize.
The Dark Film is written in very clear, simple, lucid language. It’s an easy read. I enjoyed not having to dip into a dictionary or Google names of things and this might be why I felt this book had a lovely flow to it even though it covers a very wide range of topics.
Paul Farley often likes to startle the reader by opening a poem with an unusual, sometimes bizarre, image. This is what grabs your attention and draws you into the poem initially. The poem ‘Brent Crude’ begins:
“Each one of us could fit inside a barrel,
assume foetal positions, elbows in,
suspended in the sweet and viscous black”
At other times he creates a sense of immediacy and movement, another way of drawing you in, as in ‘The Cellar’:
“Mind your head. The ceiling is low.
Slowly down the gritty steps”
However, I rarely reached the end one of these poems feeling fully satisfied or “wowed.” Why? Well, I got the feeling that Paul Farley too often skimmed across the surface of a topic or theme, and then tied the poem up before he risked losing the reader’s attention. In a way, these poems are too easy to read.
In ‘Outside Cow Ark,’ for example, which is one of the loveliest poems in the collection, Farley develops a theme about the life force operating in different creatures: “Is mine the only heart out in this weather?” He begins to ponder how human hearts, built for the long haul, must be perceived by creatures with shorter life-spans. But the poem ends just as it’s getting interesting. We end up with a neat and tidy three stanza poem hinged around a quaint but ultimately rather inconsequential thought, but which could have been developed into something much greater.
By the end of The Dark Film I still had the feeling of dissatisfaction. It’s not a book which has left a deep impression on me. There aren’t any poems in here that I feel the urge to go back and re read. Still, each poem is, on its own account, well made, clever and often entertaining. Like I said, it’s an easy read.
Five Words that describe this book: startling, nostalgic, playful, superficial, unsatisfying.
Stand Out Poems: ‘The Power’; ‘Outside Cow Ark’; ‘Creep.’
Killer Line: “Now look around your tiny room / and tell me that you haven’t got the power.” (from ‘The Power’)
Ben Wilkinson writing in The Guardian describes it as a “captivating” book that “pursues many of his staple themes – childhood, history, technology, landscapes and, of course, the cinema,” but which sometimes indulges in “tired laments for objects.”
Nicholas Pierpan, writing for Tower Poetry, says that Farley has adopted a powerful technique called interpellation, meaning using a powerful command telling “you” what to do or think, but warns this “can make for awkward reading.” He praise Farley for “skill with the lyrical surface” but concludes that most of the time there is “little underneath.”
Carl Griffin in the Wales Art Review thought that Farley “playfully revels in exaggeration” and that there are “poems here which probably should have been left in the folder marked ‘early drafts’.” The gem of the collection, says Griffin, is the title poem, ‘The Dark Film.’