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David Lloyd – Arc and Sill

(Shearsman Books and New Writers Press, Bristol & Dublin, 2012. Paperback, 150pp, £9.95) 
 
Reviewed by Niamh O’Mahony
 
Cover of David Lloyd - Arc and SillDavid Lloyd’s Arc & Sill gathers poems from five different books spanning the period of 1979 to 2009. The collection is the latest collaboration by Tony Frazer’s Shearsman Books in the UK and Trevor Joyce and Michael Smith’s New Writers’ Press in Ireland. John Wilkinson describes a ‘constellated elegance’ in Lloyd’s writing in his review of Arc & Sill. This ‘elegance’ is credited as the inheritance of a ‘European dialectical lyric’ which reveals itself in terms such as ‘sill’, ‘lintel’, ‘sheet’, ‘flock’ and ‘stone’’. The etymology of these words, and their use in the poems points towards a provisionality which is consummated in Lloyd’s poems. 
 
The first selection of poems is from Vega which was published by Mindmade books in 2009. This section is composed of an introductory poem ‘Lyra’ followed by a fourteen-page sequence of sparse but rich lyrics. The epigraph to the poem derives from the Italian poet Eugenio Montale’s Motets and translates as, ‘I know: I have to lose you again and I cannot.’ These lines recall the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the constellation Lyra as well as the dialecticism that Wilkinson gestures towards. Vega presents a potent example of Lloyd’s dialecticism, and this is particularly evident in this fourth page from the poem: 
 
 
 
first incision
          of the soft issue
 
soft stuff
          under my hand
takes shape
          from me
 
tissue of mis-
          voiced prints
you who do
          not fit  slashed
 
cast off
          threads sticky with seam
rubbed 
         wrongwardss
 
There’s an anatomical precision to the first two lines, and the fleshy ‘soft stuff’ is both violent and erotic. This viscerality is compounded and exchanged in the following word ‘tissue.’ Lloyd exploits the multiplicity of the word so that the ‘tissue’ retains the physicality of the opening lines and the ‘voice … prints’ in speech recognition and also evokes the linguistic materiality of ‘mis | … prints.’ Lloyd draws out the various meanings of his language, using these differences as pivots to turn a poem in another new direction. By the final lines, this physical and conceptual materiality has become textile; the cloth is rent, the line is ‘cast off’ and the material is ‘sticky with seam.’ 
 
These lyric poems introduce a range of images that recur across the collection in different configurations and to different effects. There are images of trees, water and stone and the sky is filled with birds, angels and stars. Lloyd employs these rhetorics and vocabularies in different arrangements; images of the body, of laboratory quality control and geological mining are gathered in ‘the crystal fluting,’ while manufacturing processes and nature arise in ‘cinder paths.’ Lloyd transfers metaphors between and across different processes or phenomena. The collection gains much of its force from these transferences, metaphors and figures of speech where the meeting of tenor and vehicle creates something wholly new.
 
Lloyd’s exploitation of the provisionality of meaning as a mode of critical examination is extended in the fourth poem of Sill which was first published in Los Angeles by Lloyd’s own Cusp Books in 2006. This poem cultivates a series of dualities whereby one thing is brought into being or made apparent by virtue of its opposite: a ‘wing stirs the air into being,’ there is the ‘curve of your lack by my side,’ and the seeing eye of stanza two redoubles the light ‘as if sight were seeing itself seeing. The third stanza confronts the reader with the ‘intolerable silence where you were’ and are no longer. This silence ‘drums in the ear, tympanum,’ where ‘tympanum’ invokes a musical drum and the ear drum which ‘beat[s] through the din’ (62). 
 
Among the most persistent of these images in Arc & Sill are the mouth, the voice and the ear. Lloyd returns again and again to these sensory points, trying and testing and pushing their limits. This imperative to challenge boundaries is constitutive of the lyric form of Lloyd’s poems. Vega is a lyric sequence but it the lyric ‘I’ is diffracted, emerging and receding again so that it becomes difficult to establish a stable figure behind the poems. This instability is intensified by the combination of rhetorics throughout the collection and the permutations of rhyme which are strikingly deliberate. 
 
The collection is dominated by themes of loss, pain and passing, although these themes are mediated through light and fragile poems replete with doorways sills and lintels, with tympanums, crossing over and falling through. Lloyd has expressed a suspicion of developmental metaphors in discussion of his poetry, and the thematics of this collection encourages quite a different model of reading. Arc & Sill supports an approach to the text attentive to the local intensities of rhyme and polysemy as consolidating broader resonances across the collection as a whole. 
 
 
15 March 2014