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This review is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Cover of JacobCover of Poems for the Young at Heart
Ian SeedTrue to Imperfection

Carole Coates, Jacob
Shoestring Press, 2016 (£10)

Martin Stannard
Poems for the Young at Heart
Leafe Press, 2016 (£10)
Carole Coates’s Jacob is a long narrative poem, the bulk of which tells us the story of a boy growing up in suburban England during the years following the Second World War. We also see him as a young man in the late 1960s and in the final section as an older man in the early part of the twenty-first century. Much of the drama revolves around his troubled relationship with an unstable mother and its effects in later life. A series of other important family relationships is woven into the story and plays a crucial part in the formation of Jacob. The connections are not immediately clear, and indeed the situations and scenes themselves can take some time to come into the kind of focus we would expect from a conventional novel. Coates (in a manner sometimes reminiscent of Toni Morrison) uses the language of poetry to take us into the subjective world of her main character so that we experience his curiosity, disorientation, anguish, pain, love, terror, disgust or delight from inside his head and body. She eschews punctuation and capitalisation, save for two brief monologues by Jacob’s grandparents. The book opens with Jacob as a toddler in his back garden, and because of Coates’s use of the senses we are there with him and perhaps also thinking of our own earliest memories:

the snail is so light  not stone-like at all
he licks the shell   following the curve         (p. 4)

We see the mother through Jacob’s eyes when she tells him ...

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