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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 Gurney, 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