I finished this book a little while ago, but honestly it’s been too hot to think about anything in an intelligent way until around now. And I can’t vouch much for now.
It doesn’t help that this is a book of poetry, and I’m very nervous of saying too much about poetry on a good day, because I don’t read much of it. I feel like I lack a lot of the tools to judge it beyond the immediate and very subjective, with nothing to back my opinions up and no wider context to hang them on, and so have very little of interest to say.
So what’s the immediate?
I knew that Jackself was a sort of poetic autobiography, and that it drew on the various Jacks of nursery rhymes and folklore, but I was still not quite prepared for what this was. The poems were standalone, sort of unmoored in time, but they also referred to each other, and followed on. There was a chronology to it, like a story told in vignettes, and rather than a concrete timeline of events, what I was left with was a sense-impression, caged in a period of time, that I could follow, almost touch. Growing up an odd boy in a Lake District village. Something restless and ill-fitting, something old and dark, something rough and ordinary about it all.
I saw that one of the judges for the T. S. Eliot prize described it as “moving”, as well, which hadn’t been part of my little parcel of expectations when I picked it up, but is absolutely in line with my experience. It was moving, surprisingly so. I don’t think I appreciated just how incredibly well done it was until I started gathering together my impressions of it. I enjoyed it a lot, and when I got to the end and there were no more poems, I had a distinct moment of No, where’s the rest?? which is always a good sign for a book (but always a bit sad for me).
Strange and quite wonderful.