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Shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019
Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song? Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm.
In the narrative of transformations that unfold, the invocation of Erato also carries with it a sense of errata and erasure. As stories and ideas are repeated, and recurring imagery – of fires, bees, birds – is continually reframed, we are asked to replay, rethink, rename. How do we step out from the ‘perpetual loop’ of trauma? And how do we find a way of processing painful change? Here, bewilderment in the face of ongoing historical tragedy is countered by the Rees-Jones’s close and careful attention to immediate or remembered experience, and the importance of the body, whether this is lying awake at night with a sleepless child, the felling of a backyard tree, walking in Paris observing the encampments of refugees, or the dreamlike conversation she has with the radio about bombs and the use of drones.
Erato includes elegies for family members and close friends, including an impressive and moving long poem ‘I.M.’. Also included here is the autobiographical ‘Caprice’ in which Rees-Jones explores with musical abandon ‘the scribble-mess’ of self, and the ‘grainy, atomized emotion coursing through in middle age’.
Throughout Erato there is a compelling sense of continued curiosity, of thoughtful questioning, of questing for truths. The author’s background in the classics, her immersion in modern poetry as well as a deep interest in modern art, all combine to influence the essential quality of this work.
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