Reviews of Sarah Jackson, Pelt, Northumberland: Bloodaxe, 2012, ISBN 9781852249311, 64pp, £8.95, and David Cooke, Work Horses, London: Ward Wood, ISBN 9781908742001, 73pp, £8.99.
In his 1921 essay, ‘Psycho-analysis and Telepathy’ (1921), Freud tentatively suggests a connection between the ‘science’ of psychoanalysis and certain forms of ‘occultism’: 'It no longer seems possible to keep away from the study of what are known as “occult” phenomena .... It does not follow as a matter of course that an intensified interest in occultism must involve a danger to psychoanalysis. We should, on the contrary, be prepared to find reciprocal sympathy between them …. Alliance and co-operation between analysts and occultists might … appear both plausible and promising.'
Jackson’s poems often seek to visualise such moments of psychic violence between parent and child; to give another example, in ‘What Daddy Built,’ the daughter, ‘wanting to be still-small ... climbed inside the doll’s house / that Daddy built’:
placed your cheek on glossy gables. You ran your tongue-tip
all up the walls, bit down, the wood splinters sweet, cool.
deep inside you. Truly, you could eat this doll’s house that Daddy built
or it could eat you ....
your head in the kitchen window, a doll in your teeth.
Such psychic violence, then, is part of the child’s experience in splitting from the parent; and, although this violence is usually repressed in the unconscious, Freud argues that it can be glimpsed in displaced and symbolic form through dream imagery, and, indeed, in the work of ‘creative writers and day-dreamers.’ In much of Jackson’s collection, poetry takes on the mantle of the Freudian dream-work, and becomes ‘the royal road to the unconscious.’ In Jackson’s imagery, we glimpse, in displaced form, the desires, horrors and, indeed, occult-ish forces of the unconscious. As Freud makes clear in late works such as ‘The Uncanny’ and Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the unconscious is the place not only of repressed desires, but also of the irrational, of ‘primitive’ rituals and superstitions, of the infantile and occult-ish belief in psychic omnipotence – of, that is, the infantile and occult-ish belief in a kind of psychic power, which might make a mother fall to the bathroom floor just by wishing it.
The creed we’d inherited, it was unambiguous
and always claimed us as its own ....
who had prayed like us and chanted,
professing faith in our creed.
that human ties will cease,
they had sought continuance,
This seeking after ‘continuance’ on the part of past generations – past ‘fathers’ – is a recurrent concern of Cooke, and in poems like ‘St. James Primary, Reading,’ he feels ‘swamped / by history’:
by history: a Victorian church,
where we crocodiled to Mass on Wednesdays,
interceding for the re-conversion of Russia ....
the mysteries of the others’ playground,
but chanted tables daily –
our paean to the god of rote learning.
a contender when I did my stint
in the ring, my dad convinced
I had the style and the stamp of a winner.
But in the end I just got bored.
You had to have a killer’s instinct
to do much better than a draw.
It’s after hours. I’m on my own ....
like the best of them, I will show
him feints, a classic stance,
trying always to keep up my guard.
Gazing implacably into a future
that only he has willed, he is seated
squarely on his mount in what might be heroic
poise, or a pose of self-aggrandizement.
five times as wide as the Lee –
across her by the vision
of a horseman leaping a rock,
who it seemed was only a statue,
a fool of an emperor called Pater,
Pater the Great, or something like that.
Jonathan Taylor's books include the novel Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), and the memoir Take Me Home (Granta Books, 2007). His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk.