Shortlist year: 2022
Shortlist category: Poetry
Published by: Giramondo Publishing Company
The poems in 'Human Looking' speak with the voices of the disabled and the disfigured, in ways which are confronting, but also illuminating and tender. They speak of surgical interventions, and of the different kinds of disability which they seek to 'correct'. They range widely, finding figures to identify with in mythology and history, art and photography, poetry and fiction. A number of poems deal with unsettling extremes of embodiment, and with violence against disabled people. Others emerge out of everyday life, and the effects of illness, pain and prejudice. The strength of the speaking voice is remarkable, as is its capacity for empathy and love. 'I, this wonderful catastrophe', the poet has Mary Shelley's monstrous figure declare. The use of unusual and disjunctive – or 'deformed' – poetic forms, adds to the emotional impact of the poems.
About the author
Andy Jackson's first collection, 'Among the Regulars', was shortlisted for the 2011 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry; in 2020 his collection 'Music Our Bodies Can't Hold' was shortlisted for the John Bray Poetry Award; and in 2022 his collection 'Human Looking' was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. He has featured at literary events and arts festivals in Ireland, India, the USA and across Australia, and has co-edited disability-themed issues of the literary journals Southerly and Australian Poetry Journal. Andy Jackson works as a creative writing teacher and tutor for community organisations and universities.
In 'Human Looking' Jackson shows he has a highly distinctive poetic voice, and writes with great technical skill and variety. Starting with its ambiguous title, Jackson's book is an extraordinary poetic exploration of his own disability – Marfan's syndrome, which is disfiguring and distorts the shape of his face and body. His poems are blistering in their power, wonderfully subtle, objective and with no self-pity. The first poem in this book 'Opening' plunges straight in to the main subject, and deals with corrective surgery – the long incision, which his condition required. But Jackson does not stop with the physical incision. He confesses "the long suture ruptures/ in my head – the scar remaining open." What happens to our bodies becomes our mind. Astonishingly he takes this yet one step further. Through his poem, Jackson tells us, you the reader "are becoming/ this unstitching, this sudden opening." Jackson does not falsely valorise suffering – suffering is suffering – but it opens us. He is able to rise above it, feel love and empathy, and accept himself. In his poem 'Borne away by distance', referring to Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', he writes of "I, this wonderful catastrophe . . . turning toward/ tremendous being." Tremendous indeed. And beautiful.