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5.0 out of 5 stars 'in the the time left to me....'
As a working poet ['Avebury: Rime & Time'/2011 and 'Earth, Air, Fire and Water'/2015], I buy some and read lots of others' poetry. 'Of Mutability' is a great piece of mature work by Jo Shapcott.

Nearly 20 years ago, I bought her first 'Electroplating the Baby' ( which later went 'walkabout') and loved her work in re-presenting Rilke and Herbert. It was no...
Published 6 months ago by Andrew Francis

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You get what you pay for and this cost 1p + postage
I was expecting the hard cover book I had read in the library but this edition was just a little pamphlet. The poems were still good, of course.
Published 20 days ago by J. Windle


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5.0 out of 5 stars 'in the the time left to me....', 7 Jan. 2015
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Andrew Francis "anmchara" (Haydon Wick, Wiltshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Of Mutability (Paperback)
As a working poet ['Avebury: Rime & Time'/2011 and 'Earth, Air, Fire and Water'/2015], I buy some and read lots of others' poetry. 'Of Mutability' is a great piece of mature work by Jo Shapcott.

Nearly 20 years ago, I bought her first 'Electroplating the Baby' ( which later went 'walkabout') and loved her work in re-presenting Rilke and Herbert. It was no hardship to buy 'Her Book Poems 1988-98', the anthology of her first three collections, some time ago; this I loved.

But for me, this 'Of Mutability' takes another good step onward. In that yawning interim, Shapcott has undergone treatment for cancer, with all the thinking and reflection such a journey creates then and ongoing. That is reflected in the maturity and variety of this lovely, slim volume. This leaves you hoping for more from Shapcott's mind, heart and pen - please.

There can be little wonder that this was Costa's 2010 Book of the Year. Buy it, bathe in its words and enjoy it - you'll soon by another as a gift for a friend.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fine craft, 14 April 2011
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A fine collection of good poems that circle central themes of mortality and the preciousness of life. Shapcott's recent experience of cancer is clearly present, but not in an obtrusive or excluding way - they are relevant to all of us (well, all of us who are mortal, anyway). If I have a criticism, it would be that at times, the 'professional poet' is a little too evident; one or two of the poems read as if she has found a beautiful image or line and then worked a poem around it - rather than always working from the necessity of driven emotion.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 25 July 2012
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Ten years ago I had to submit a poetry portfolio for an MA in Creative Writing and cite my influences. When my tutor, Professor Newman, read my list she said I wasn't stretching myself enough, which wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know. You see, I'm more of a prose than a poetry kind of a girl and always have been. However this poetry collection made it to the top of my must read list by virtue of it winning the 2010 Costa Book of the Year Award.

So what makes it a prizewinner? The Costa judges said "these strong poems are rooted in the poet's experience of breast cancer but are all about life, hope and play. Fizzing with variety, they are a paean to creativity and make the reader feel that what matters to us all is imagination, humanity and a smile."

Given that comment, I was expecting the poems to tell the story of the poet's diagnosis, treatment, and cure. This is not the case. In fact the 'C' word is never mentioned and any references to her illness are oblique. So in the opening poem, Of Mutability, we are told "Too many of the best cells in my body/ are itching, feeling jagged, turning raw...and your blood tests/ turn the doctor's expression grave,' while in the penultimate, Procedure, a cup of tea, "takes me back to the yellow time/ of trouble with blood tests, and cellular/ madness..."

The collection is certainly varied, though. There are poems that make me smile, like Somewhat Unravelled, about her aunt's dementia and Tea Death, about someone drowning in a cup of Earl Grey. There are poems that challenge me to connect directly with the natural world, such as Night Flight to Muncaster "Reader, you're an owl...You can hear clouds creak, droplets hiss" and I Go Inside The Tree, about an ash, "notice its colour/ - ashphalt or slate in the rain - then go inside." There are musical poems, such as the long titled Shapcott's Variation on Schoenburg's Orchestration of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in Eb major, 'St Anne', with the deliciously sensual line "rub notes on to my skin to make the pores sing"; enigmatic poems, like The Black Page, with its equally sensual "strip off, fall in/ and swim in ink"; and poems that are clever extended metaphors, like Uncertainty is Not a Good Dog.

The strength of the variety is that it gives rise to some surprising juxtapositions. So The Deaths, one of my favourite poems, ("I thought I knew my death") is followed by almost-prose The Scorpian, another personal favourite ("I kill it because we cannot stay in the same room."). And the startling Viral Landscape ("I went outside and found the landscape/ which had eaten my heart.") precedes the reassuringly concrete Myself Photographed ("So this is me. In the field after we got lost.")

In the acknowledgements at the front of the book, the poet credits the artist Helen Chadwick as "the presiding spirit of this collection." Perhaps it's because I'm not familiar with Helen Chadwick's work, but for me there is a more obvious influence: the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelly's poem Mutability, which links humans to nature ("We are as clouds") and to music ("Or like forgotten lyres") itself explores the nature of change, concluding with the paradox that only change is constant: "Nought may endure but Mutability."

This isn't a book to sit down and read from cover to cover in one sitting even though, at 54 pages long, it would be perfectly possible to do so. Read a few poems at a time, savour them as you would a good wine, give them space to reveal themselves to you. I don't say I like every poem. I don't even say I understand completely the ones I like. (And does that matter anyway? Why regard a poem as a puzzle that has to be unlocked?) But I do say there are some poems in this collection that I will be reaching for to read and re-read time and time again. I'm sure Professor Newman would approve.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Close cousins, 20 April 2015
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This is an excellent collection by a poet at the top of her game. Her use of fluid visual imagery
and intriguing subject matter make the poems unique. She uses her own health crisis
and works of art and illuminates them with words. This adds to my conviction that works of art
and poems are first cousins.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible, thoughtful and moving, 11 Feb. 2013
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A collection written following a diagnosis of breast cancer, consider the experience of illness for those who are ill and those who are close to the person ill. Using nature and the landscape to describe experiences and a skill with language that will give many hours of pleasure reading and pondering...
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars pleasant surprise, 11 Feb. 2011
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Bought this book after the author appeared on BBC breakfast show. I am usually not too impressed by modern poetry, this book however was a pleasant surprise and I would recommend it to anyone. I was very moved from the first reading onwards, I have to admit, though, that I don't understand some of the later poems in the book, some seem pretentious for the sake of being so which I don't like - but most of the poems grabbed me straightaway and I keep coming back to them.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic, 6 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Of Mutability (Paperback)
When i saw Jo at the national poetry day, the poems in her book came to life and for me it was one of the best readings i had heard because she did not have to force the poems or the words they just trickled gently from her personal experiences an extension and magnification of the poems. The simplicity of the poems give them life
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff - a review from a non-poetry reader, 11 July 2011
By 
Daniel Park "danielpark99" (West Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Of Mutability (Paperback)
I'd like to qualify this review by saying I'm not a natural poetry reader. Some of these poems "spoke" to me, and some did not. "Uncertainty" used a "bad" dog as a metaphor, rolling in other smells so it couldn't be discovered, and poorly tracking, seemingly blind to risk. I think this is an interesting way of viewing what uncertainty means, and not just in the context of the author's illness, which understandably colours her work. It also reminded me of Ted Hughes' poem, "The thought fox" which I remember reading at school.

Interestingly the poem opposite "Uncertainty" in the book, entitled "Composition" has the same subject matter as "The thought fox", i.e. how a poem gets created. In "Composition" the author tries her best to avoid writing, and is distracted by many commonplace things, and yet the poem becomes a representation of all these everyday things. That brought a smile to my face.
"Scorpion" was another of my favourites. Here the author dashes off her reasons for killing a scorpion in a headlong rush, reproducing her sense of fear in an intense breathless paragraph.

A previous reviewer criticised the author for occasionally being too much of a "professional poet". I must confess I'm not quite sure what that means, but I have to agree that some of her works seemed to go over my head, as if she was talking to people who know more than I do about the art of poetry, so perhaps that's what the reviewer meant.

However, all I all I found Shapcott's poetry to be very good stuff and I'd be happy to read more of her work in the future.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting. We had a worthwhile poetry group meeting ..., 16 Nov. 2014
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Very interesting. We had a worthwhile poetry group meeting discussing Jo Shapcott's work.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Of Mutability, 13 Aug. 2011
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TomCat (Cardiff, Wales.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Of Mutability (Paperback)
`Of Mutability' opens with a series of what could liberally be described as sonnets (fourteen lines each: an octet followed by a sextet; but no stringent adherence to a prescribed metre or rhyme scheme - perhaps `free verse sonnets' would be a better, if somewhat oxymoronic, description). The first of these deals more explicitly with illness (without actually name-checking the cancer which Shapcott was suffering) than any other poem in the book, "your blood tests / turn the doctor's expression grave" and begins with a list-like sequence of unpleasant adjectives - all spondees, all separated by commas "itching", "feeling", "jagged", "razor". This heavily punctuated, heavily stressed opening is so rhythmically severe that it forces the reader's impetus into a slow, deliberate, unbroken syllable-by-syllable stomp; each harsh beat, marked by cæsura, functions as pounding onomatopoeia in mimicry of the relentlessly unpleasant sensations being experienced by the narrator. The second stanza, however, acts as volta to this down-beat opening by focusing on hope, learning and life, and is characterised by light-centric imagery, "sky", "chandeliers", "comets" etc. Compounding this tonal shift is a change to a much lighter, quicker rhythmic cadence: list-like constructions remain, but there are fewer commas to slow the pace and a progressive increase in the syllable-per-word ratio that forces the reader to speed and trip-up over the lines, a rhythm that supplements the lighter and more hopeful direction the poem has taken. Sure it's free verse, but that's not to say rhythm isn't important.

This disconnect (or, rather, this convergence) of the dour with the light-hearted actually functions as microcosm for the entire collection. The dominant themes throughout are death and change, but `Of Mutability' is not a relentless onslaught of misery, tempered as it is by frequent comic, pastoral and historical interests. Admittedly this interjection of the comic does run the risk of bathetically undermining the seriousness of the book's titular theme, but Shapcott is mostly successful in merging pathos with humour in a way which adds depth, rather than detracts from it - and again this augments the sense of irony that we've already encountered. The poem `Tea Death', for example, is a six-stanza description piece of man who's collapsed into his cup of tea, and died. This morbidly comic image begins with a charming and funny confluence of blood and tea "lungs topped up / with Earl Gray, snorting // tea leaves which would gather / in the distant networks / of his blood" but is immediately undercut by an allusion to a sad life and alcoholism. The disparity in the title between the domesticity suggested by `Tea' and the profound unknowability of `Death' is an antagonism at once comically absurd yet relatable and alarming; the enforced proximity of the prosaic `tea' with the abstract `death' sums up the general tone of the collection: `Of Mutability' makes-light of what's serious while debasing the commonplace - which is probably a better blurb for the back cover than any of the phoned-in comments that were actually used, if I do say so myself. Which I do.

So an important role is played by the paratextual (that which is external to the main text: titles, epigraphs etc.). It is often difficult for the reader to grasp simply from the text alone the full import of these poems. The title of `My Oak', for example, actually accounts for the poem's first two words, and runs immediately into its un-capitalised opening line. The title of `Gherkin Music' offers the only hint of what's being described (the eponymous London skyscraper); and the title of prose poem `Scorpion' is the exclusive place in which the metaphorically loaded creature being killed by our narrator is actually named.

Returning to the theme of biography, a supplementary feature of this collection that helps holistically bind the poems together is the repeated use of the word `cell', which functions as the book's defining refrain and appears at least once in (almost) every poem. To call-back my intentional fallacy: I couldn't help but correlate this word to Shapcott's illness, and to me `cell' became synonymous with cancer, sickness, pain. It's unnerving that such a short word can alter the course of an otherwise fundamentally comic or pastoral or descriptive (or whatever) poem with context-imposed connotations of grief and fear and abnormality. On a more twee level, the word `cell' can also be used a label for each of these short, self-contained poems that, when considered synchronically, comprise the `body', if you will, of this collection.

There's the occasional gaff, for example `Composition', which features the cringe-inducingly clichéd line "I was drowning in possibility" and is somewhat of a conceptual miss-fire, as the narrator composes a beautiful verse while, ostensibly, being distracted by her surroundings because, dammit, she just can't help herself - she's such an innate poet. But such errs are rare.

Fundamentally this is a very modern book of poetry, frequently abstract and tricky to pin-down, many poems squirm and slip and defy meaning. The aforementioned pseudo-sonnets and some occasional para and internal rhyming are the only nods to neoclassical form, and while some pieces have a kind of regimented stanza length, this is about as structured as they get. But even if modern poetry isn't quite your thang, I'd recommend you give `Of Mutability' a try: it's an unusually lyrical collection, considering its ilk; and its thematic collision of beauty and pain offers a successful heuristic to the problems of espousing a verve for life while simultaneously suffering an horrific illness. I suppose it's up to the caprice of the individual reader whether or not you allow knowledge of Shapcott's cancer to colour your reading, but for what it's worth, it definitely helped me ground some of the more abstract pieces within a graspable context and, if anything, it added a poignancy and thematic cohesion that might otherwise have been lacking.
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Of Mutability
Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott (Paperback - 2 Jun. 2011)
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