Skip to main content

Review: Lorraine Mariner's Furniture


The title poem of Lorraine Mariner’s debut volume tells the story of two young women in their twenties: one who has “acquired” a family, home and furniture, the other “who’d only ever known the fully-furnished, / the three white goods”. As both a metaphor for unrealised, misplaced aspirations and an emblem of modern life’s clutter, furniture in the broadest sense is ubiquitous in Mariner’s poems. Many specifically address such objects, intent on uncovering the social significance they embody, as in the complex staff-room politics of “Chair”, or the collapsed Ikea wardrobe of “There is nothing wrong with my sister”. Elsewhere, the cultural detritus of Littlewoods catalogues, CDs, predictive texts and London Lite newspapers grows irritatingly to litter the book with their almost programmatic contemporaneity, though frustration is usually offset by Mariner’s natural, charming and engagingly chatty free verse.

The best poems in Furniture tend to be the longest, affording Mariner room to unpick everyday subject matters in often surreal narratives. In its study of human infidelity, “Feathers” sustains an impressive (if unlikely) extended metaphor based on birding, while “My beast” brings children’s fairytale and adult reality into literal collision, the poet imagining her father’s “Volvo reversing into a beast’s carriage” while she “end[s] up at the castle as compensation”. “Assertiveness role play” treads a similar line between contemplative seriousness and wry comedy. “Thursday” is an accomplished and original perspective on terrorism, detailing in lengthy stream of consciousness the poet’s journey to work on the morning of the 2005 London bombings.

It is in the short, first-person lyrics which dominate the collection that the shortcomings of Mariner’s verse appear. Too many of her poems fail to develop their slight subject matters: in “Shop names”, a brief discussion of retail puns yields nothing beyond mild amusement; “My wedding” sacrifices a more provocative engagement with the personal implications of our digital era to throwaway, crowd-pleasing effects. At its best, Mariner’s work is sure-footed, energetic, and often strikes an original tone; at worst, it exhibits prosiness and chick-lit triviality. But the strongest poems – foremost among them the fully realised character study of “In my worst moments” – successfully combine a witty light touch with intelligent reflection.


first published in the Times Literary Supplement

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry in Motion

POETRY IN MOTION Why one Reds supporter is committing his love for Liverpool FC to verse Liverpool FC and poetry have a lot of previous – from John Toshack’s Gosh It’s Tosh collection in the late 70s, to the verse of Dave Kirby and Peter Etherington in the fanzine Red All Over the Land , to the lines written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a University of Liverpool graduate, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hillsborough findings. Now there’s Ben Wilkinson, Reds fan and book critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement , who’s compiling a series of poems commemorating the club’s legends. “Football is part of the fabric of life, and anything that’s important to people finds its way into poetry,” he says. “Wilfred Owen’s poem 'Disabled' describes a soldier who loses the use of his legs, meaning he can never play football again. Philip Larkin’s 'MCMXIV' compares boys queuing to join the army to fans outside Villa Park. These poems have stood th

Michael Hofmann - Changes

Changes Birds singing in the rain, in the dawn chorus, on power lines. Birds knocking on the lawn, and poor mistaken worms answering them ... They take no thought for the morrow, not like you in your new job. - It paid for my flowers, now already stricken in years. The stiff cornflowers bleach, their blue rinse grows out. The marigolds develop a stoop and go bald, orange clowns, straw polls, their petals coming out in fistfuls ... Hard to take you in your new professional pride - a salary, place of work, colleagues, corporate spirit - your new femme d'affaires haircut, hard as nails. Say I must be repressive, afraid of castration, loving the quest better than its fulfilment. - What became of you, bright sparrow, featherhead? poem by Michael Hofmann republished with permission of the author first published in The New Yorker from Acrimony (Faber, 1986) I've loved Hofmann's poetry since I first came across an old copy of what I still think hi

Louis MacNeice

‘World is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural’. Even if you’re not that well-versed in modern British and Irish poetry, chances are you’ll still know ‘Snow’, or a line or two from the poem will seem naggingly familiar. While still in his twenties, Louis MacNeice wrote it in 1935, and since then, it’s been a favourite with readers, writers and editors, cropping up in every kind of poetry anthology. Weird, then, that MacNeice’s work has often been seen as a footnote to that of his illustrious pal W.H. Auden, when he’s so clearly a hugely original poet in his own right. And when, among more recent generations, the likes of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Don Paterson and Conor O’Callaghan have all cited him as a major influence in their own writing. It’s not like ‘Snow’ was a one hit wonder, either. Despite some of the less exciting – and often lengthy – stuff he wrote in the early 50s, MacNeice only got better, perfecting his moving, atmospheric an