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This review is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

THE ART OF THE SIMULTANEOUS Mimi Khalvati, The Meanest Flower (Carcanet) £9.95

There are artists in every genre whose work is neither argumentation nor narrative, but instead operates something like a series of tableaux. One thinks for example of Harrison Birtwistle, who in operas like Punch and Judy and The Minotaur is fascinated by irreconcilable difference rather than his characters’ action upon each other; of countless Romanesque and Gothic Madonna-and-Childs, whose artist or sculptor has worked to retain, rather than resolve, the sacred-secular paradox; of Arabic calligraphy, which allows text to be experienced as a whole. as well as line by line; and of traditional textile arts. There is, as these examples suggest, nothing to limit the register, range or indeed the beauty of what we might call ‘simultaneous art’.

Perhaps, though, it is less common - even controversial - in the Western Enlightenment tradition, which tends to propose the world as a series of problems and solutions. Art which is not chiefly concerned with progression presents us instead with the given-ness of the world: and all that this may imply for powers of observation, ego-less-ness and, arguably, fatalism or a tragic imagination. The opposite of trivial, and highly intentional, the simultaneous is therefore rare in British poetry. This rarity has cost Mimi Khalvati, its chief contemporary practitioner, a great deal of bald incomprehension. In our narrowed poetic economy, where a few models do wide service, her whole project, with its minutely attentive gaze, elegance of diction and above all rigour, has been largely missed.

The Meanest ...

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