Edward Mackay studied History and English at Oxford University and lives in east London where he also runs a mediation charity. His poetry was shortlisted for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize (2011), commended in the Emerge Escalator competition (2010) and shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award (2009). He has been widely published in magazines and anthologies. Swarming (Salt Publishing, 2012) is his first solo publication.
“Swarming is a waspish debut of strange voices and unsettling moments which jostle at the border of individual and collective experience: a holy fool lurks uneasily in an abattoir; a host of angels go to work in the Israeli post office; a tiger wanders through London, blurring the lines between dream and reality, the atomised individual and the possibilities of the social. Meanwhile Mesolithic voices emerge in a spell from the depths of the north sea and eclectic presiding spirits from Ivor Gurney to Jim and William Reid haunt poems which are deeply personal and quietly political – poems which hope, fiercely, for a remade world and rage that it is not so.”
“Edward Mackay’s poems sound like the real thing. In fact, the pleasure of reading them again and again is heightened by the growing perception that they are indeed the real thing: their wide-ranging subject-matter and striking allusiveness are complemented by a richness of diction, an impressive intelligence, and a formal elegance at the service of his subject. The tone ranges from an almost objective detachment when dealing with ‘heavy’ emotional material, to a controlled anger, to an almost excruciating relish in the depiction of the grotesque, to poignant expressions of the human predicament – see the poem of a life lived on the boundary, ‘Stone House Asylum, 1932’, about the poet Ivor Gurney’s last days.
Here is a poet whose capacious imagination and obvious love of language is matched by his abilities to transform sensation, feeling, and intellectual awareness into true art.”
– Robert Vas Dias
“Edward Mackay’s poems always deliver surprise: his formality is jagged and irreverent; he re-envisions the lyric in the edgy fringes of east London. He takes on many guises – cannibal lover, death-knell raven, restless traveller. This is an extraordinarily confident and beautifully crafted debut from a poet who is going places.”
– Tamar Yoseloff
“Sharply sequenced, Mackay’s pamphlet possesses a courageous, focused, and often visceral perception, revealing its author to be equipped with that necessary ‘acuteness of the senses’, to quote Poe, that makes for good poetry. From ravens to abbats, to the Johnny Cash bassline of a tiger’s walk, to the pinnacle work on Edward Thomas and Private Guerney, these well-crafted poems reward the reader with characters and phrasings that bend our customary ways of seeing things, retelling the world through the integrity of their metaphors.”
– Rachael Boast
Yours, the browning, bent-down corners
of my books, Jupiter’s red rings drying
in a wine glass. Yours, the somersaults
of the furies, the restless night, the rupture.
I give you, too, an anagram of your discarded
names, your absences, your story, your stomach’s
taut fire-lines, the idle traces of your toe in ash:
smoked signals on that sill above the Mile End Road.
I leave you the thrilled, sour taste of those early
nights, dissolved like the host on my tongue,
in that chaste first month when we lay, untouching,
outlines of leaves rustling in the borrowed dark.
Yours, fermented hours, cradling a hope inside
the heart’s neat crook. I give you back your echo,
my pencil shavings, three burned down candles,
the granite revelations, these swarming years.
So, yes, I will sit in your pew, performing
the ablutions of custom: sing lustily and then
forever hold my peace. I’ll beam – and mean it –
as a puce-faced man links arms with you and speaks
his part. I’ll dab a dignified eye and place
my slip-shod faith in your fresh happiness. These things
I do for you. I’ll even think of other things
(between the hymned injunctions that you don’t believe)
to put aside the memory of your fresh grown curves,
their neat silhouette on curtains drawn across
our conspiracy of amber afternoons. And I’ll not
picture the lovely chaos of piled clothes, jam jar lids
of dogends, or you, shameless, sitting at the far end
of my bed reading aloud – your crease of belly
grinning, slicked in sun. Or then the twist of hips,
wide-eyes, and clumsy tongues. These things I’ll try.
I’ll raise a glass. I’ll even dance. I’ll kiss your cheek,
wish you well then drive into the heavy evening
of your August wedding night where dusk is furred
with stories, motorway illuminations trail, and
all’s washed clean, forgotten. You will wear white
and be unhistoried. I’ll turn off course, and look back briefly
down the incline of the years, to read that outgrown city
that went on without us. And above, the jittering
stars will slip into the constellations of your freckled back.
These gathering days
are the thin, electric days,
fermenting to the spark of a golden sun.
Full harvest days, taut before the rains,
billowing beneath the contented weight
of a dying season. They come in equal
moments, clinking from the cupboards;
the measuring days, in muddled, misfit rows,
the palm-prickled hoarding days
sifted to the weight of a purpled fig,
resting fleshy and warm, a bird in the bowl of a hand.
The hours are counted out in pierced sloes,
sliding their springtimes, greened from
their opened sea-deep blues. We drop sweetened words
into bottles, slicking them in syrups, vinegars and rums:
plump fruits marooned from time, press idly
against glass as juice and sap slip between cracks,
their rhythm slowed. They settle into one another,
bobbing in their tiny glassy worlds.
Veined skins split pathways from the sun
in these shrunken days. Then comes
the cold; we are well-stocked
to hold back the hunger,
yet indifferent jars stay sealed,
furring with dust as the treasures sleep.
from Swarming (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Visit Edward’s Salt author page.
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