Review Short: Cary Hamlyn’s Ultrasound in B-Flat and Other Poems and Jill Jones’s The Quality of Light and Other Poems

19 September 2018

In the opening poem, ‘Ultrasound in B-Flat’, the treatment of the subject matter quickly becomes gauche with the affected seriousness of the lines ‘A sentient singularity’ and ‘strobing and probing/through my uterine fog’. Some of Hamlyn’s poems seem to lack technical and analytical depth, exhibiting a certain arbitrariness to their line breaks, language and ear. For example, the poem ‘Arguing with an Ex-Lover’ reports: ‘I always hesitated at the front door / returning home, / fearing the mood you’d be in, / worried I’d say the wrong thing / and wound your sense of manly pride. / Your ego was always pricklier than pear, so easily cracked open. / Your fury spun like a tornado, / whipping up all in its path’. The reliance on hackneyed similes such as tornado-like rage, prickly pear / ego, and words like darts defuses any poetic tension that such a scene can evoke. The language also renders the alternating left and right alignments of the lines a little lifeless; predictably, the alignments visualise the back-and-forth movement of conflict, within the speaker herself, her hesitation at the door, as well as the unfolding scene of violence between the man and ‘us’- the reader, the speaker, the dog and ‘the plants by the window’. A sense of struggle and lack of agency produced through the poems’ persona’s recurring self-displacement, whether projection onto a latent antagonism between her and men, domestic objects, or sunflowers is a somewhat tired motif that makes her poems progressively predictable and flat.

Hamlyn’s everyday object is at times used to great effect, such as in the short poem, ‘Gili Sea’. The lapidary line, ‘Thongs, sunny-side up’, compresses sound and image into a field of force, transforming the mundane object into one of visual and symbolic power.

There are several poems which I found perplexingly discordant, such as ‘Bedroom Voyeur’, a mock heroic about a piece of furniture (‘Philandering, faithless cube!’) that witnesses the decline of a relationship, and ‘Fungi Party’, a piece puzzlingly awkward in its rendering, where ‘downstairs is itchy’ and ‘Candida plays host/to her fungal cohorts’. The perfunctory line indentations, ironic tone and punctuation (exclamation marks, for example) in these two poems let them down, and such poetic choices across the collection weaken its whole.

In my opinion, Hamlyn’s ‘free verse’ presently appears to be taken on as an inherent poetic form instead of the poems determining such a choice. Deeper engagement with tone, as well as the lineation and prosody of the chosen free verse forms (engagement with rhythms, syntax and music, for example), might better communicate and complicate the emotions she presently seems to convey and explore primarily through her chosen subject matter.

If Hamlyn’s work addresses gender, perhaps its most glib lines are the ones describing the ghost of the Rozelle boarding house ‘stroking the brow of Sandra gently / as she sleeps in her mezzanine bed’, a reflexive nod to the Harlequin romance and Gothic genres as a caricatural or melodramatic contrast to the realism of sexual predatory encounters invoked in the collection’s other pieces, emphasising a skilful renovation of form and meaning through tone. This, I think, is Hamlyn’s poetry at its most reflexive and witty, indicating interesting work to come.

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One Response to Review Short: Cary Hamlyn’s Ultrasound in B-Flat and Other Poems and Jill Jones’s The Quality of Light and Other Poems

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