Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Jilted City

I wrote the mini-review below for the latest Magma email newsletter. You can sign up for it here, to keep abreast of what's going on at one of the UK's very best poetry magazines, and to see the Subscriber's Poem Workshop.

Jilted City, Patrick McGuinness, Carcanet, £9.95

Throughout this, Patrick McGuinness's second full collection, there's an opposition between rootedness and displacement, and a further tension between careful reflection and obsessive over-analysis of situations and relationships.

The former no doubt owes something to the poet's highly cosmopolitan background - Tunisian-born, of Belgian and Newcastle-Irish parentage, he now lives in Wales. The multi-lingualism that goes with it is fully explored in poems such as French, where his mother-tongue (and "mother's tongue") is "freighted / with a kind of loss", and the enjoyable sequence Blue Guide takes stations on the Brussels-Luxembourg railway line as the starting points for journeys into the past.

There's a deeply personal strand to all this, too, with several poems touching on the death of his mother, lightly yet movingly.

A poem called The Empty Frame, meanwhile, serves pretty much as a summary of that second dichotomy, concerning itself with: "the squared-off angle, the spirit-levelled, bevelled edge that marks the end of / seeing, calls time on the eye, that marks the border between the over- and the / unexamined life."

Just once or twice, you might wonder whether McGuinness, fine and sharp observer of (especially urban) landscapes that he is, dwells on loss and decay a little excessively, but that, I think, is to miss his real object. By the end of the collection, his elegies for lost times and places move way beyond what we think of as nostalgia, and much closer to defining the original meaning of the word, as an actual 'maladie du pays' (or country sickness).

But, it's all done with a dry, ironic wit (Poem In White Ink, in this context, works as a far better joke than Don Paterson's similar blank page), so it's by no means a gruelling journey. In fact, you'll probably find yourself repeating it in pretty short order.

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