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'Janet Sutherland’s latest collection Bone Monkey (Shearsman) combines exquisite lyricism, wit and philosophical inquiry: “Bone Monkey sprang to life./Three strands of darkness and a streak of light/were wound inside his head. His heart/made what it could of that.” '

Kay Syrad, Morning Star online 11/12/2014 Poets, publishers and critics rate the collections which have impressed them over the last 12 months

Janet Sutherland has created an altogether different beast. Bone Monkey is full of grotesque, pungent images and an overarching concept that draws an engrossing character-based collection tightly together. Through her primordial god, Sutherland explores ideas of origin, violence, death and eternal life:

   Bone monkey had grown old - the time had come 
   to shuck his skin, to slither out plump as a suckling pig, 
   to slip home like a lord. 

These images repeat themselves throughout the collection. They grab you, violent and ingratiating, just as Bone Monkey, rapist and murderer, does. We experience Bone Monkey's aging, decaying body again and again; eternal renewal without redemption:

   and slit the shrivelled leather at his throat. 

   He put his hands inside, spread them apart 
   and climbed outside himself. New tender flesh
   smelt of ambrosia and was sweetly curved. 

   He cast his old husk on the waters, watched it sink

In 'As a god' we see Bone Monkey revel in his decay:

   Bone Monkey knows himself a God 
  although his raddled arms, his ruined balls 
   and buttocks seem to say he's less than that. 

He is a god regardless:

   See how the light springs from his beating heart. 
   Why would a god deny time's ravages?

Later, Sutherland gives us a new insight in 'Fire and fleet and candle-lighte'; the god that wants to die, who can never know the sweetness of release from the ruthlessness of existence: 

   Not knowing how to die he hits the sack
    and curls in foetal pose, pretends he's dead. 

   … What he'd give 
   for silence and an end to everything. 
   But still his ruthless heart beats on. He lives. 

Sutherland's collection resists allegory and easy conclusions. It is also playful and darkly humorous; the grotesque intermingles smartly with the absurd. As in 'He adopts the position of a stool pigeon', the image flicks from amusing to hideous betrayal. Again, in 'Assemblage de Beautes', Sutherland begins with the amusing image of our ungainly god in an airing cupboard but quickly we are drawn back to something urgent and fleshly:

   there is blood again and a heart beating like crazy.

It's a strange, hauntingly prophetic piece of work.

Sarah Cave 2014

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