“Today, I find I can see through my eyelids.” Which is a good thing, as I need to read Jackson’s debut collection (published by Bloodaxe) with my eyes shut, and I can’t put it down. Her poetry is deliberately unheimlich (the opposite of what is familiar), it profoundly disturbs at the same time as it draws us in. We can hear “The Ten O’Clock Horses” coming down the street, we can feel the “devastating wind” in that deserted hotel in Bulgaria. We reach the end of the book and realise we have to ask ourselves the same terrifying (yet exciting) questions about ourselves and the world around us, which are not quite explicit in the poems but at the same time shout clearly in our minds. And then we start reading again. Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and winner of the Seamus Heaney award for a first collection, this promises great things to come from Sarah Jackson.
Moniza Alvi’s new book-length poem At The Time of Partition (Bloodaxe) was the first book I bought last month from Nottingham’s wonderful new independent Five Leaves Bookshop. Short-listed for the TS Eliot prize, the poem weaves family stories from a terrible and life-changing period for the millions were caught up in the new divide between India and Pakistan. I’ve long been an admirer of Alvi’s poetry, from her first collection,A Country at My Shoulder (1993), onwards. She has a distinctive ability, in evidence here once more, to explore identity and capture key moments in people’s lives, examining them through the minutiae of everyday events: ‘the pleating of a sari/… The sweeping of the hallway.’ Her powerful new work focuses on a family’s decision about whether they should stay in India or cross the thin line to the new country, Pakistan. She unravels the questions, doubts, rumours and heart-breaking consequences that are all bound up in this momentous decision with a deftness and delicacy which should bring her many new admirers.