“Jilted City” Patrick McGuinness (Carcanet) Poetry Review

Jilted City by Patrick McGuinness A sadness permeates “Jilted City”, but it’s not malignant, more the benign sadness that comes with acknowledging change and progress.  In “French”, Patrick McGuiness is teaching his own children what used to be his first language, 

“Now my children taste it,
the empty-courtyard French I used to speak:
they push their tongues along the language
and as I hear their words snag I hear my own again
and wake from that recurrent dream in which
I’m always waking up and break off that aborted

first line of my story which I’m always starting:
that I’m much younger and still Belgian.”

Although the longer lines suggest a prosaic rhythm, the assonances and consonances suggest poetry.  Captures too that realisation that you want your children to naturally be good at what you’re good at, but they are their own people with their own talents and not mini-versions of their parents.

In “Nineteenth Century Blues”, a woman, unaware she only lives in a man’s head,

“Even to herself she is no more than half there,
however totally described.

The language enfolds her. Later it embalms her.”

 “Jilted City” gives a feeling of trying to trap something ephemeral that cannot be expressed explicitly but through mood and hints.  The book’s wrapped up with some translations from Livia Campanu (1932 – 1994), a poet and lecturer from Bucharest who felt out of favour with the Ceausescu regime, finding himself in Constanta, where Ovid was once banished.  In “From the Ovid Complex”,

“I’m not adapting. But what’s worse
is that I’m getting used to it: I’m a bad version
from the classics, Ovid in translationese,
jazzed up with radio and TV
(albeit black and white and with just one channel),
unable to hit the right note without feeling
I’m borrowing from someone else’s story.

And what I complain most about is that it’s not exactly
suffering, not quite extremity, but rather fretting
at tedium’s hem, picking myself apart remembering
those nights in Bucharest, or one night in particular,
when we stole a moment on the balcony,
adultery’s hanging basket, at the Union of Writers
Festival of Progressive Literature:
she was the trellis and I the vine (which is a bourgeois
poet’s way of saying I was all over her.)”

The attraction’s clear.  These poems fret but don’t ruminate.  A tender harvesting of language.


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