Poetry: Jamie McKendrick | clivejames.com
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Jamie McKendrick

by Cécile Menon

The author of five books of poems, and the selection Sky Nails: Poems 1979-1997 (Faber and Faber, 2000) Jamie McKendrick was awarded the Forward Prize for Best Collection for The Marble Fly (OUP) in 1997, which confirmed his prominence amongst the poets of his generation. He has also translated a number of  Italian authors, including Valerio Magrelli, and Georgio Bassani's novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Penguin, 2007). His latest collection, Crocodiles & Obelisks (Faber and Faber, 2007), is as topographically and historically wide-ranging as McKendrick’s erudition: the reader is taken from medieval Basra to contemporary Spain through a variety of themes — prisons, empire, invasions, and architecture, to name but a few. He has an eye for the coruscating detail picked out of a seemingly opaque fabric of events, or even non-events: such as sitting at a desk waiting for the words to come ('Gainful Employment'). 'A Mole of Sorts' jumps from a mole-infested garden into a more unsettling, darker realm. Whether he draws from the personal or the historical, McKendrick uses humour as a way to travel further into the world. Questioning the minutiae of life, he uncovers layers of unsuspected meaning. 'Salt', his free translation of a poem from Montale's sequence 'Mediterraneo', gives the full measure of his own deftness of expression in a complex and intensely visual poem about exile from one's native tongue. Critics have pointed to the 'textural and thematic sensuality' of his work and to the clarity and fluidity of his style. McKendrick also is a master of the art of sketching chilling tales of man-made horror ('Ancient History', 'The Resort') or ironic anecdotes about fate ('Six Characters in Search of Something'), but he can wrench the heart when, with a characteristic restraint of tone, he reflects on the violent death of a friend ('Beyond'). Lighter notes are achieved in 'Sky Nails' and 'The Needful', while 'Oil and Blood' sings of a vampiric lover's lust for his "chosen one".