Winner of the TS Eliot award in 2016, this is Polley’s fourth collection. It’s unsettling from the opening poem ‘The House that Jack Built’, a poem that focuses on destruction. We see time pass through the lifespan of timber – despite how much manipulation humans exert on the wood, it lasts. It’s unnerving to be reminded of our mortality in the opening poem, but that’s what Jackself is all about.
There’s a definite sense of journey in the collection as we follow young Jackself and his friend Jeremy Wren in their journey to adulthood in rural Northern England. The sense of unease deepens as the collection unfolds, caused in part by the injection of haunting nursery characters but also the sense of pervading grimness of the surroundings. Everything feels dark and dank and depressing. The use of Cumbrian dialect in places feels otherworldly, another way Polley leaves us feeling out-of-kilter. There’s also a playfulness in parts with the boys’ childish antics and language. Somehow this makes it seem even more sinister.
An interesting read, with some very skilful writing. Unexpected, and unsettling.