The Guardian’s Kate Kellaway reviews Jacob’s Â JackselfÂ for the Guardian’s Poetry Book of the Day.
Instead of the onerous first person â€“ the â€œIâ€ from which most autobiographical narratives hang â€“ Jacob Polley entrusts his story to figures from nursery rhyme, cautionaryÂ tales and riddles. Jackself, his fourth collection and the recent, unexpected â€“ and in every way deserving â€“ winner of the TS Eliot prize, opens with a quotation from Gerard Manley Hopkinsâ€™s sonnet â€œMy own heart let me have more pity onâ€, a line that gives the book its title: â€œSoul, self; come, poor Jackselfâ€.
We are in a world furnished by frost, kidney-coloured pools, rosehips andÂ buzzardsâ€™ wings. Home is Lamanby â€“ an ancient Cumberland place name. There is an eerie quality about the landscape that makes one consider what people amount to without possessions.
One is grateful for the humour in a work that is otherwise as disturbing and driven as a force of nature. Polley isÂ confidently mysterious â€“ no surprise to learn he is also the author of the 2010 Somerset Maugham award-winning murder-mystery Talk of the TownÂ
Polley has found a way of writing about an emotional journey cut loose from the reassurances of modern context. It is a displacement that pays dividends â€“ as in King Lear, one feels one is encountering â€œthe thing itself: unaccommodatedâ€ man.
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