Jo Shapcott, Of Mutability; A Graph Review

  A Graph Review
60 with many highpoints 70

Of Mutability
Author  Jo Shapcott

Published  by  faber & faber                2010.                       Paper                 9780571254712
Costa Book of the Year 2010

In reading this book I feel I am creeping out of the past and entering the present (well, recent past, anyway).  I have spent too much time dipping and delving into the last 100 years or more.  Admittedly I have surfaced twice (Claire Trevien and Daniel Healey) and am now perhaps reading more current poets but I have still  to fully surface from the past.

So, no surprise or apologies for bringing attention to Jo Shapcott’s fourth book published 2010: Of Mutability .  When published it was her first new collection for 12 years.

45 poems in this collection

Mutable…..definition: Capable of or liable to change or alteration  (Longman Concise E.D.)

Free verse throughout.  No skinny lines here, no average length of poem or designer rhymes.  Yes, some are short and brief, others run through, lines bleeding over the page like straight text.  Subjects vary from ill health to recovery, on survival, from decline to love.  All look at the different natures of change via image and emotion.  What I feel from this poet’s collection is an understanding, an inevitability that life is change;  without change, for good or ill, there is nothing and from that comes the sense that change is a form of creation to be accepted and in a loose fashion, angry or ecstatic sense, celebrated. The poetry is confrontational, observational and joyful.  Of Mutability is the title, a named poem, and the whole collection runs with that theme, very satisfying.

Emotional images, many surreal, buffer with the more ordinary in these poems.  Often several poems linked by subject and style.  We have imagist poems, The Gherkin in its stylised layout, another short, brief and full of depth; a set of trees, poems in response to:; loss, love and fact  Surrealism abounds and for some reason this collection gives me a mash, picture-echoes, of Dali, Gauguin and Hockney, a heady and bizarre mix.  Lastly we have a superb poem that draws on another image, from an elemental act the sheer power and joy of the creative mind.  For me an ending of double echoes, of double echoes.

A deserving winner of the Costa Book Award, not just the Costa Poetry Award, beating all-comers that year.  Deserving to stand the test of time as a collection and a poet.

As a collection it merits reading from start to finish.  I might get a kicking if I hesitate over Border Cartography with its six little scenic, short verses that feel like an unexpected eddy within the book.  Maybe that’s the point.  These poems can/should be read in clumps as they fit together but as per usual I pick out just a few, below, that tick my boxes………


photo by Lin Smith

Scorpion;          The Black Page;         Somewhat Unravelled;          Alternative;
Night Flight from Muncaster;              Piss Flower


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