All the weapons of December are here:
the lowered knife of the sky, my sister’s
fingers like a herd of horses
are retreating across the piano.
- from ‘Rainy Day in the Drawing Room’
Highly Commended by The Forward Prize 2010
At once erudite, humourous and stylishly contemporary, Sarah Hesketh’s debut collection invokes a world of frozen lakes, ‘snow-spun streets’ and people who have stayed too long.
With formal control and precise, crafted language, these poems examine the ‘small relics of lives’: china horses in an old people’s home, a caged bird, the thighbone of a Saxon saint. Drawing from myth, history and a close reading of the present, Napoleon’s Travelling Bookshelf is an impressive and engaging journey into love, identity and what it is to be alone – ‘lost from sight / behind the ice-mapped waves’.
“What Sarah Hesketh’s poems do so remarkably is to string a row of images together in such a way that each keeps its distinct hardness while at the same time contributing to a crystalline whole. They are original and utterly convincing.”
“Sarah Hesketh writes superbly crafted poems with a very firm hand. Her poems are overflowing with intelligence and scorn for the easy and the clichéd, but her ear is as keen as her passion for the right word, the properly perceived state of affairs. When she writes lines like: ‘I am content to form / the small oh of glory, / to add a little polish / to your morning epaulettes’ (in ‘Faking’) you know that the irony you are dealing with is as intricate as lace but as sharp as daggers. Her terrain is not, to extend our analogies, exactly Jane Austen’s ‘two inches of ivory’ because Hesketh’s imagination ranges far and wide into some fairly exotic real and literary spaces, but the sense of ivory is there, as is the fierce, delicate carving. It is a melancholy but rigorously beautiful world her poems describe. We also know that every tiny part of every line has been fiercely fought for and that that is the source of the authority.”
“Hesketh’s first collection is a striking debut, abounding in verve and rigour. In stark, lucid language, pared to the bone, summoning images that are sometimes cryptic yet always singing, Hesketh whirls us through a breathless breadth of forms, subjects and perspectives, from an old woman “forever remembering the waltz” in ‘The Ballroom at West Riding Asylum’ to ‘The Boy Who read Homer to His Cat’, juggling a giddying array of themes and allusions, often in the same poem, such as in ‘Chaconne for Ice’, where Roald Amundsen and Neil Diamond meet cheek by jowl for the first and probably only time. There is a real musicality to Hesketh’s writing, imbuing her whittled words with a rhythmic vitality that is utterly compelling. A fine first collection from an exciting new poet.”
Poetry Book Society Bulletin
“Hesketh is determined to fuse word and thing into an integrated experience… A voice that is distinctive, smart and reaching for a mode of expression both disciplined and elliptical.”
Graham High, Tears in the Fence
“Hesketh sees her role less as a creator than a researcher – or perhaps better, a revealer – scratching through the thin veneer of rational, enlightened, modernity to bring to the surface the dark currents, of neglected mythology, forgotten history and childhood influences, that shape our lives but which we most often choose to ignore. [...] Like Napoleon with his books, Hesketh with these poems is clearly amassing her intellectual armoury for future campaigns. So, onward and Vive l’Impératrice!”
Adam Biles, ekleksographia
“[Hesketh] fields lines which are beautiful and brittle … and crystal-sharp visions of lives defined by a mixture of desperation and hope, frailty and strength.”
Jon Stone, Dr Fulminare