PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
Digital Access to PN Review
Access the latest issues, plus back issues of PN Review with Exact Editions For PN Review subscribers: access the PN Review digital archive via the Exact Editions app Exactly or the Exact Editions website, you will first need to know your PN Review ID number. read more
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Drew MilneTom Raworth’s Writing ‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing
(PN Review 236)
Alejandro Fernandez-OsorioPomace (trans. James Womack)
(PN Review 236)
Kei MillerIn the Shadow of Derek Walcott 1930–2017
(PN Review 235)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Oxford University Press
Gratis Ad 1
Next Issue Kei Miller on poetry and volume control Parwana Fayyaz's Afghan poems Gabriel Josipovici bids farewell to Aharon Appelfeld Craig Raine plants a flag A.R. Ammons from two angles

This review is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

DEFTNESS JO SHAPCOTT, Of Mutability (Faber) £12.99
ANNA ROBINSON, The Finders of London (Enitharmon) £8.99

Jo Shapcott’s latest collection is a grower. It contains several poems which on first glance appear simple, even lightweight, but which on closer inspection seem to alter their shapes and court multiple points-of-view. This makes her title appropriate, since ‘mutability’ describes not just the dismal literary flux invoked by Chaucer, Spenser and Shelley, but also the tendency of cells to undergo genetic mutation. Her book’s eponymous first poem describes consciousness, as she likes to, in scientific terms – ‘Too many of the best cells in my body / are itching, feeling jagged, turning raw’ – before modulating, through a subdued imperative – ‘Look down these days to see your feet / mistrust the pavement’ – into a weirdly injunctive sestet:

Look up to catch eclipses, gold leaf, comets,
angels, chandeliers, out of the corner of your eye,
join them if you like, learn astrophysics, or
learn folksong, human sacrifice, mortality,
flying, fishing, sex without touching much.
Don’t trouble, though, to head anywhere but the sky.

Such verse could be said to critically inhabit – rather than straightforwardly critique – a couple of the conventions which bind the mainstream contemporary lyric. Shapcott not only abrades such poetry’s closing moment of uplift; she also explodes the equally predictable list which allows poets to fill out their lines without saying very much at all. We start to read the sestet expecting such a feel-good device but are soon derailed. The passage ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image