thirty-one: Jamie McKendrick, Crocodiles and Obelisks

I’m not sure why, but I fell out of love with poetry when I was at university (studying English language and literature). I can remember liking Milton and John Clare, but the rest is a bit of a blank. It’s a shame, because in my first year our practical criticism tutor was Jamie McKendrick, and he generously offered to give us poetry writing workshops, weekly, if we were interested. What I wouldn’t give for that now…

I found this collection pretty hard. Maybe because i was back from holiday, and back to reading poetry on the tube? There was a lot going on – lots of intertextuality, politics, history, places, references to other writers and poets – which made me feel a bit ignorant. But I loved the tender observations scattered throughout – ‘An Encroachment’, for example, which is just beautiful. What I really liked was the incredibly subtle rhyme – you can sort of hear it chiming, and then you have to go back and actually work out the rhyme scheme.

Favourites were ‘Obit.’, ‘Guide’, ‘The Key’, ‘Polonius’, ‘Hearthstone’, ‘Adjustment’ and ‘H2O’; and this is ‘An Encroachment’:

Now I can take over your side of the bed
I discover the little space between
the bedside and the wall I’d been
unaware of – where you’d made

an installation like a survival kit:
biros specs nailfiles novels magazines
tubes of mild medicaments and creams
one decorative box with nothing in it.

I lift the nothing out and stare at it.
Never has nothing looked more splendid.
Fearful I’ve left a smudge and marred it
I quickly put it back and shut the lid.

Jamie McKendrick, Crocodiles and Obelisks (Faber and Faber, 2007)

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