From Sarah Day, Island Magazine, January 2012
All but four of the poems in LK Holt’s collection Patience, Mutiny are sonnets, loosely speaking: they have fourteen lines and they are adroit in their lyric compression of large ideas into this compact form. In stanzaic structure they include the English sonnet form, but not the Italian. For the rest, the break-up of stanza and line length is treated liberally. The concluding couplet is a powerful tool in Holt’s hands. Often, as in any good English sonnet, the nub,
or epigrammatic turn, lies in the final lines. Listen to these:
No matter how we persist,
Love’s a lever. We lower when we want to lift.
I think I shall pretend I’m flying away,
And by this sphere’s doing reach you anyway.
When you take up with whores
you breathe in gladness
breathe out remorse’
(‘Fragments of Alkaios’)
If you should ever need my life then come and take it.
A knack for defeatist love is fathered in the boy.
Memorable phrases don’t just come at the end of poems:
…Leftovers from the carnal Know:
the all-wise illiteracy of smell’
(‘Portrait of a Family Man With a Portrait of His Father’)
Holt’s poems are technically disciplined, sound working at all times in conjunction with meaning and image, and in the construction of the line. Regular metre comes and goes, operating as a sort of subterfuge in its inconstant constancy. The effect is to link the poems, whose subjects are wide-ranging, tonally and rhythmically.
Holt draws on what’s to hand for her content: day-to-day experience, Fox News, myth, classical allusion, the literary canon – Kafka, Chekhov, Lorca, Dorothy Wordsworth, the Bible, Shakespeare, the Edda of Old Norse, Alkaios of ancient Greece – Darwin and Mawson too are all present as illustrative references or poetic forms. This might sound like bricolage, but there’s a deftness in Holt’s style of building her literary bower. Her briefest allusions are entirely apt: ‘All wild animus left in a corner of Bosch’s Heathrow’ (‘Departing Flight’).
So much poetry steers clear of specific public concerns. The risks of didactic or edifying writing are well-known. I applaud Holt for taking up the challenge and carrying it off in a number of poems. ‘Shipbreaking’ is a powerful comment on the dispensability of human life. It moves dextrously from the particular to the universal in its conclusion. In ‘Memo’, Holt describes the exodus of discarded computers arriving ‘in West Africa by the million-tonne/, following the slave route back’. Children sift through the toxicity of smashed monitors ‘through the long line of elements:/ cold-war americium; imperial europium/ arsenic, boron, lead and cadmium,/ Cleopatra’s black antimony’.
The notes at the end of this collection seem somewhat arbitrary. Details about Lorca, for instance, are included but nothing about Edda or Alkaios, of which I’d imagine less would be known.
I have numerous favourites in this collection, which repays many readings.