“What Do I Know Anyway?” – Jamie McGarry


Writing poetry is a painstaking craft, and it’s clear from the outset that Scarborough-based Jamie McGarry spends a lot of time in perfecting his poems.An award-winning poet at a young age, Jamie unleashed What Do I Know Anyway? in 2008.Consisting of twenty-nine superb poems, spread over seventy-five pages, there really is something for everybody in this, Jamie’s astounding debut collection of work that’s been published through Village Press.
Cleverly wearing his influences on his sleeve, his love for John Hegley’s work is especially apparent in the charming For Worms and then a little later on when the abrupt One Leg Less tickles the highly amusing A Farewell To Sense.
There’s certainly no denying that Jamie McGarry has got a way with words, wisely opting to be self-deprecating when he best sees fit. Reading his work, it’s immediately obvious to the reader that Jamie knows he’s got talent, and yet he doesn’t boast about it.His sense of meter and rhyme are extraordinary, and many of his poems pack a real emotional punch come their final line. Themes range from the mundane nature of working nine-to-five as a Christmas Temp in a retail environment (read the collection’s opening poem Three Letters and prepare to weep with laughter) to the way in which far too many people take their loved ones for granted, as evidenced in the cutting Landed.
‘Just wake her, and tell her 
you love her, for once, 
and buy her some flowers 
when you’ve landed.’ 

Jamie also regularly alludes to what he describes as ‘the dramatic unfairness of life’, with the affecting Ten delicately chronicling how people often grow apart as they grow up.While a palmful of Jamie’s poems are extremely short (take Outlooks and On Failure for instance), two poems in particular stand head and shoulders above all others.

First and foremost, the magnificent Solitary takes an intimate peek into the work-anchored life and times of Hannah Hauxwell, an amazing woman who for many years lived a lonely life on her own in the High Pennines of Yorkshire. Describing the routine of her days in incredible detail, Jamie manages to weave a moving portrait of a woman who has inspired many people over the years since the legendary Too Long A Winter documentary – in which she prominently featured alongside her beloved farm animals – was first broadcast.Solitary is epic in its own right, yet A Christmas Poem manages to eclipse even that in terms of length and scope: ‘Time doesn’t go forward, you know… it rotates! It’s just that we’re USED to the spin.’
Although Jamie was born in Norwich, it’s fair to say he’s been around a bit in his twenty years, having spent a considerable amount of time in Wales and Yorkshire, too.
He might be currently living and publishing in Scarborough (where he’s set poems such as South Bay Sunrise), but he lived in Driffield for a fair number of years where he was inspired to write a poem about how his time in ‘The Capital of The Wolds’ was simply time spent in transit between other places.Appropriately entitled Driffield, it’s yet another sterling example of his ability to manipulate all manner of subjects into peculiar forms, thus ensuring that his readers can never have any inkling of where his work might take them.
Still, it’s his poems about people that really hit home, with a chance encounter in Strangers bound to strike a chord with anybody who has ever silently sat beside somebody on a train and wondered what might happen were they to speak, where the conversation might lead, and how it could quite possibly change their life for better or worse.Similarly, the heartbreaking Twenty contemplates how the intricacies of a relationship might alter over the course of two decades. Truth be told, it’s one of the most devastating poems in the collection.
As debut collections come and go, What Do I Know Anyway? is a breathtaking piece of work. It’s also a work of art.It’s heartening to know that, while many students prefer to spend their spare-time at university hitting the Students’ Union bar as hard as they can, some students love nothing more than finding a piece of a paper and a pen, and writing to their heart’s content.Jamie McGarry strikes me as one such person – and the world of poetry is all the better for him.
(Reviewed by Steve Rudd)
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