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This review is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

Cover of Love Without a Story Cover of Grimoire Cover of The Wreck of the Fathership
Joey ConnollyStory Time
Arundhathi Subramaniam, Love Without a Story (Bloodaxe Books)

Robin Robertson, Grimoire (Picador)

W. N. Herbert, The Wreck of the Fathership (Bloodaxe Books)
Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Love Without a Story would make a great test for gauging a reader’s commitment to currently fashionable forms of poetry. The poems here – usually first person, short-lined and careful, anecdotal or wry-fabular, in free-verse with occasional end-rhyming, largely lyric with frequent minor epiphanies – wouldn’t be out of place in any Best Poems of 1995 anthology. Consciously or unconsciously, the book sits in formal opposition to a lot of the work currently being lauded – a lot of the poetry I myself find to be the most exciting contemporary work.

And it would be easy to criticise Subramaniam’s poems on that line. Except that, in the main, it’s very fine poetry. Take this little stanza:

the chairs are cane,
my shirt batik,
the sunshine Goa
                           and Heineken.

The string of sounds in the three-syllable chain of ‘chairs are cane’, ‘shirt batik’, ‘sunshine Goa’ and ‘Heineken’ are gorgeous in their shuffling of sibilants and plosives, that extra syllable in ‘Goa’ damming us up momentarily before we flow into the indented final line. The way the establishment of a grammatical pattern in the first two lines means that the proper nouns
‘Goa’ and ‘Heineken’ are immediately comprehensible in their usage as adjectives – that’s masterful. The miniscule implication of intoxication in the unmooring of ‘Heineken’ from the margin, its wander outwards. So who cares that the preceding lines are

It’s 2005
and we are almost glamorous,
the five of us ...

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