Sarah Jackson’s Pelt was generally well received by the group, opinion being that it was a well made collection, an accomplished debut, and a satisfying read. The atmosphere of many of the poems (especially the first and last sections) was dark and strange, tactile, sensual but unsettling. These poems slipped in unexpected directions which we generally enjoyed although someone did feel these poems were ‘mannered’ at times. The book is divided into four sections, each introduced by an epigram, each with a different theme and feel, but they all had links and cross-overs to other sections; we felt that the first and last sections were the strongest.
(I read this as an e-book by way of experiment but found it to be a difficult form with the even the smallest font size causing the poems shapes to change and lines to spill over onto the next line or page. I wouldn’t read poetry as an e-book again unless the page format was fixed.)
George Szirtes’s new collection Bad Machine caused us to be be more divided. We all agreed that the book was too dense and some weaker poems could have edited out to give room to the many stronger ones. We also found the structure of the book off-putting with the index dividing the poems into seven sections but with no clear delineation of these sections within the book itself. The first few poems were disparate and not a strong beginning which put us off from the start.
However we (okay mainly me being enthusiastic here) did find many great poems. He is a master of experimentation of form, using a full width and breadth of language and putting language itself through its paces. Some found a few of the experiments, just that, experiments and that they were unmoved by them.
We generally agreed that the section of ‘Postcards’ – poems divided into two parts, the second being a flipside – worked really well and were an intriguing idea and we all wanted to go back and read these ones again as we felt there was more to get out of them. We also enjoyed many of the ekphrastic responses to the work of the German artist Anselm Keifer. Our discussion didn’t get as far as the acrostic ‘homage’ poems, or the Canzone’s with their strict, repetitive form although we did pick out a couple of these as ones we had liked. Much to go back and read.
Hear Szirtes discussing this collection in a Scottish Poetry Library podcast.