Of Mutability….it changes you

Titles make a poetry book sparkle- and with a title like ‘Of mutability‘,  Jo Shapcott has hit the mark.

I borrowed this book from the library over a month ago. It is the kind of book that you can’t return immediately after reading as you must read it again and again. The experience of reading poems is mutable as well, don’t you think?

How you respond to a poem depends on the kind of mood you are in. As you are always changing, your interpretation keeps changing as well.

The first time I browsed through some of the forty five poems what struck me was the elegance of the volume. The cover design of the book with its butterfly shape made of leaves from across the seasons illustrates the author’s intent. Her poems keep changing shape as well- Shapcott glides from the sonnet, couplet, pentameter, and quatrain to the prose poem.

When I read the poems again I was moved by what mutability means.  How little we choose to understand- language doesn’t seem to be enough to understand it. What Shapcott does is try to create an anti-language to get at the brass tacks of change. ‘Unceratinty is Not a good Dog’ but it is there-,a  scientific thing- starting in the cell, manifesting as disease in a stubborn mutation or proliferating into a wondrous birth.

She opens up a ‘crease’ in language and is permeable to experience: “I am this one,I am that one// I breathe in and become everything I see.” Permeability is one of the many scientific ideas that she uses to explore the scientific nature of change: surface tension, evaporation, osmosis and the “gorgeous mess of our own gravity”(The Oval pool,7)

Poets today use the jargon of economics as well; take ” she knew the markets would crash./the financial ripples would leave marks/on their bodies in fact, spread sheets….”(His n’hers 27)

What tribute to Mutability would be complete from a mythical stand point if it weren’t for including Ovid-“passion/made a trampoline of his soul”. The gypsies view Ovid,the author/creator of Metamorphosis, as gullible, not the great conceptualizer he is made out to be now.

I was curious about the final poem Piss Flower and so off I went to the Guardian.There is a story behind the neat parallels and rhythm of this exuberant poem: “The title recalls the sculptures Helen Chadwick made by casting in bronze the shapes made when she urinated in the snow. Shapcott writes, with obvious enjoyment: “I can shoot down a jet stream / so intense my body rises / a full forty feet…”

This book won the Costa Book Award and was written after Shapcott’s own cancer treatment. I learnt this just now while researching for this blog post. I’m glad I did not know this when I read the book. You can glean as you read where some of the poems may have come from and that is the beauty of reading without any a priori assumptions.

Click here to hear Shapcott’s own thoughts on mutability.

Poetry as healing is an idea that I’ll be looking more at in this blog.

I still haven’t returned this book! Must do it now….


neelthemuse@ 2013

Check out my book Unsettled @ the Indireads Book Store: http://indireads.com/books/unsettled


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