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This review is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Cover of The Triumph of Cancer
Dominic LeonardStructure Becoming Sentience
Chris McCabe, The Triumph of Cancer (Penned in the Margins) £9.99
In his fifth book of poetry, The Triumph of Cancer, Chris McCabe explores cancer in its physical intricacies down to an atomic level, as well as in its metaphorical possibilities socially and politically. As the poet reminds us, it only takes one cancerous cell for malignancy to ‘spread… sideways out, like fingers, outwards’, and in the collection this much is true for victims of cancer as well as for anybody trying to navigate a world caught up in self-perpetuating chaos.

McCabe is at his strongest in moving elegies for his father, particularly the opening poem ‘Crab’, which ties the etymology of ‘carcinogen’ to the memory of a family holiday, and ‘Cancer’, which flits between images and time-frames along an abstract Tube journey. As the speaker rides through tunnels, as if through the veins of a body in the process of self-sabotage, the poet balances the simplicity of a regular commute – ‘I take cash from the ATM, switch to the DLR & check my texts’ – with the heavy conceptual weight of the topic undertaken: ‘And the tube started. To say she alighted would simplify how heavy / it feels to move forward alone, away from the dance of endorphins.’ T.S. Eliot’s influence is felt in the poem, from its epigraph to its Prufrockian reflections and the narrator’s tour through half-deserted platforms, and imagery reminiscent of Four Quartets (‘In my commute begins / the death in my prime’). The mind, in this poem, is unable to stay still when forced to dwell with something so incomprehensible. ...

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