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This review is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Cover of Love Songs of Carbon
Edmund PrestwichCalm Stars

Philip Gross
Love Songs of Carbon
Bloodaxe Books, 2015 (£9.95)
Love Songs of Carbon explores what it is to be a mind in an aging body, a self mysteriously and precariously alive in the physical world. As the title suggests, Gross combines lyrical subjectivity with science-based reflection.

Extended metaphors evoke the outer world’s impact on the mind, as in this comparison of childhood days to raindrops:

              each hung from the dark top lip of window,

sometimes glittering, more often grey,
with an upside-down world in it, tiny and shivering.

They often address the fraught relations both between the body and the mind, and within the body and mind themselves:

This body,

fact, given thing

that winces sometimes
from the mere jolt of itself

Time’s pressure is keenly felt, in ways that bring together hard biological observation and the suggestiveness of the poetic image:


                      : with time
the skin thins; we become more see-through
as if the drip
                        of it, passing, was diluting us.

The last two quotations illustrate how Gross experiments with layout to control the way his poems are spoken. Such fine-tuning has a price. It can work brilliantly to capture movements of thought or movement in the visible world, but in weaker poems can seem fussy and restrictive. Even in strong ones, by limiting the reader’s freedom to speak the words in different ways, it limits the ...

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