Sunday, 20 January 2013

An Imperfect Life (Rosemary Okun)

--The blurb--
"With these poems, the author leads us [...] through the hills and valleys of what she refers to as “an imperfect life”. Despite having traveled the world, she has never forgotten her roots and her loyalty to those who matter most in her life. Now she offers this legacy of [...] thoughts and feelings spanning two centuries."

--The review--
It's perhaps fair to say that poetry is not usually of mass-market appeal. Despite Britain having a poet laureate, poetry being firmly established within the UK's educational curriculum, and many establishments across the world offering poetry readings and events, poetry often takes up a small space in bookshops, and rather than being devoured like novels, poetry books usually sit on shelves in people's homes to only be dipped into every now and again. This is in spite of the internet being flooded with amateur poetry and writers' forums, inspiring the feeling that anyone can have a go, which perhaps helps to build up false hope given the currently dire state of many creative industries, including poetry-writing.

This arguable saturation of the market means that it is increasingly difficult for new writers to stand out; lamentably, it appears that as a writer, Rosemary Okun does not achieve this through her debut poetry collection, An Imperfect Life (which is sold by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major retailers).

Firstly, the redundant title (don't we all have imperfect lives just by the very nature of what the human race is?) does not inspire further investigation. Those who do embark upon a more detailed perusal of its pages will find poetry that is ultimately no different to a lot of amateur poetry being produced today. While it is clear that writing about her difficult relationship with her mother and her clashes with her religious upbringing has been helpful to Okun herself, it does not stand to reason that just because one individual finds it therapeutic to write of their feelings and experiences, others will automatically find the style of these expressions outstanding or the content revelatory. Poetry in its purest and most high-quality form should show a consistent mastery of language, innovative imagery, linguistic clarity, and the ability to hold a mirror up to the reader's own life and show them something new about themselves. Okun does not do this with any degree of regularity.

This is not to say that gems of phrases do not exist at all within An Imperfect Life. Okun does have a flair for personification ("dull thoughts marching slowly") and the marrying of the artificial and natural (as she does in the assonant phrase "still buildings rise honeycombed"). Occasionally, genuinely creative moments of insight occur ("I'm not a magician/I can't bring me back"). The cover of An Imperfect Life also does not do justice to the rest of the original art shown within, which was all painted by the author: interplays and mixtures of colour, light and shape are the real joy of this collection, and are often truly breathtaking, making the reader feel that this is where Okun ought to have pursued her creative career.

However, the appreciation of poetry is in the end subjective. What does little for one person may move another. And in a market where the walls are ever tougher to climb over and the knocks on doors are answered less and less, it is not perhaps for anyone to tell anyone else that their dreams are not worth pursuing.

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