Carcanet Press Logo
Quote of the Day
I'm filled with admiration for what you've achieved, and particularly for the hard work and the 'cottage industry' aspect of it.
Fleur Adcock

Review of Jane Draycott's Over - David Wheatley, Times Literary Supplement

30 April 2010
To refer to oneself in the third person, as politicians and footballers sometimes do, suggests a self-image both lordly and insecure, at odds with itself. Poets too have their version of self-decentring, in the frequently adopted strategy of displacing a narrative 'I' onto the second person. In 'Sky Man', the opening poem of her third collection Over, Jane Draycott has a different approach again. The other, which might be the self (a mirror is involved), contemplates the either/or of alterity and proceeds by determinate negation before an eventual second-person identification. The sky man:
    Waits in the sky mine upriver.
    You are stone and that chair is only a chair.
    No change in the face of the mirror.
    Not you. Not you.
Over is a volume of journeys and midpoints between here and there, of the 'exact half-way' moment of midsummer, while 'to and fro along the fair miles / the fascinations travel'.
    Cockaigne, the fabled land of plenty, 'begins to look a lot / like home', even as the voyagers going up the Orinoco pursue a chimera ( 'There is no gold'). The sense of identity is prone to sudden fade-outs, as when 'lovers of many years' standing / wonder if they have ever existed at all'. Sometimes the back-and-forth between the 'me' and 'you' turns fractious, as in 'Concourse', which sounds like a metaphysical lovers' tiff ( 'What are you going to do about it? // Get in close. You made this world.'). If thresholds abound, Draycott recognizes the all-too-seductive powers of liminal zones. Life can seem permanently elsewhere, to paraphrase Milan Kundera, and many of these poems grapple with a drama taking place offstage, as when 'Night Museum' unveils its 'legendary shroud': 'almost the body, the thing itself outstretched / but with the life withdrawn, back into the woods'. The lighting throughout Over is positively Vemeeresque, and the workshops and merchants' windows of a poem such as 'Lima' recall the lapidary clarities of Derek Mahon's 'Courtyards in Delft'.
    Pondering the time-lag involved in the motion of light, Flann O'Brien's mad scientist De Selby proposed that with a sufficiently powerful telescope the viewer might see him or herself as a baby, and possibly before. 'Lookout Mountain' finds Draycott proposing something similar, explotiting 'the speed / of the answering light' in a mirror to discover 'Your younger self shimmering'. With the eyes forever on the lookout, there is a risk not just of déjà vu but 'déjà déjà vu', as Draycott calls it in 'Echo'. Yet if some things cannot be let go, it is usually for elegiac reasons. A fine translation from the Middle English poem Pearl strikes a note of luminous elegy, and elsewhere a number of poems written in memoriam summon worlds of vanished light: 'Fear nothing. It is not over yet. / Soon we will have a whole city of light'.
    Amid the constant journeyings of Over ( which were a feature, too, of Draycott's last collection, The Night Tree), it can be difficult to pin down the author's personality: without being exactly featureless, Over is an undeniably evasive and quicksilver performance. Paradoxically or not, it is when Draycott insists most strongly on the fictional nature of her storytelling that these poems are often their most humanly true. 'One thing my father never did / was slip out under the mimosa trees', begins the final poem, 'Zulu'. In the same way that the titles of the final sequence, based on the international phonetic alphabet, often have an elliptical relationship with their subject matter, 'Zulu' is a poem about the author's father which proceeds entirely by negation. The long last sentence begins with a 'Nor' that cancels all that follows, the description of the father's travels, and how he would return home and: 'come in and play for hours / on our old Broadwood, his fingere / truly a river in spate around the house / and out into the desert of our street, / named for the small hill on which we lived'.
    None of this happened, in other words; but whether their subjects are fictive or real, these poems are messengers bringing 'news from another place', in writing that is assured, sophisticated and moving.

Previous review of 'Over'... Next review of 'Over'... To the Jane Draycott page... To the 'Over' page...
Share this...
The Carcanet Blog Singapore Casket: Jee Leong Koh read more Zest in the art of living: Iain Bamforth read more Invitation to View: Peter Scupham read more Scale: Mina Gorji read more Forrest Gander on Coral Bracho: A Profile read more The Feeling Sonnets: Eugene Ostashevsky read more
Find your local bookshop logo
Arts Council Logo
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
This website ©2000-2022 Carcanet Press Ltd