We’re looking forward to hearing from Mark Pajak’s debut poetry collection Slide, not least because it is one of the 10 books shortlisted for the prestigious TS Eliot Prize. Blackwell’s bookshop hosts this literary evening in collaboration with The Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and Jonathan Cape Publishing, as former House Poet for the popular Carol Ann Duffy and Friends events Pajak is joined by new talent from Man Met’s MA in Creative Writing for a a night of poetry readings, conversation, and a showcase and celebration of new work.
Slide is Mark’s Pajak’s first collection, although The Observer – who called it ‘polished’ and ‘striking’ – named it a Poetry Book of the Month, and said it ‘does not read like a debut’.
Mark Pajak was born in Merseyside in 1987. He was awarded first place in The Bridport Prize and has been three times included in the National Poetry Competition winners list. He has also received an Eric Gregory Award, a Northern Writers’ Award and a Society of Authors’ Grant, and he has been selected for a UNESCO international writing residency. His pamphlet Spitting Distance was a Laureate’s Choice, picked by Carol Ann Duffy (who described them as ‘skilful’) and published by Smith|Doorstop, and he has also been published by The Guardian, The London Review of Books, Poetry London, The North, The Rialto and Magma.
Slide is Mark’s Pajak’s first collection, although The Observer – who called it ‘polished’ and ‘striking’ – named it a Poetry Book of the Month, and said it ‘does not read like a debut: there is no fumbling beginner’s luck, no rough moments or threadbare patches’. They also said Slide ‘deserves to be a blazing success’.
Andrew McMillan, Professor of Contemporary Writing at Man Met and co-editor of new anthology 100 Queer Poems, says: ‘In this chilling and tense collection, Mark Pajak takes us with him into the nettles, out on the dark country lane, to the dilapidated shed – holding us with his acute precision of imagery – so we become all too aware of that “long squeal” of violence under the poem’s “fluttery lid”. A visceral and vital debut.’
Shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize – which honours new poetry collections in the UK and which, this year, chair of the judging committee Jean Sprackland (also of Man Met) called ‘shapeshifting’ in their approach to language – Pajak will receive £1,500 whatever happens and a tidy £25,000 if he wins on 16 January. The line-up also includes Anthony Joseph, who helped curate the poetry recordings collection at Manchester Poetry Library, and Zaffar Kunial, recently seen at Blackwell’s reading from his latest, England’s Green.
Of Slide, the Blackwell’s blurb is verbose: ‘This assured and arresting first collection moves deftly and with purpose into private, hidden places – a locked shed, the dark of a battery farm, a murky riverbed, a late-night bar – to show, unflinchingly and in cinematic detail, what we might otherwise choose not to see. Sight is both a gift and curse, of course: given or taken away in poems of windows and curtains, torches and blindfolds, and yet here – following in the tradition of Oswald and Heaney – each image is freshly minted through a cool, objective eye. Every poem seeks to inhabit those seemingly small but pivotal moments which have monumental, sometimes mortal, consequences. For Pajak, time is fluid: a blink can be “slow as an eclipse”, our lifetimes are fleeting, our deaths often lingering and seldom peaceful or painless. Vivid and visceral, steadily examining violence, sexual encounters, childhood and ageing (a dying grandmother’s “slow pink eyelids, those quick teaspoon breaths”), cars and cities, and Nature – full of wonder and threat – Slide is always asking pertinent questions: illuminating brutality, frailty and tenderness, the responsibility of those who witness – whether voyeur, bystander or reader. This is a charged, beautifully observed and thrilling debut.’