Canongate, ISBN 0 86241 884 4
Reading the Bones is Janet Paisley's fourth collection of poetry and is further testament to her extraordinary talents. Often disturbing, yet always life-affirming, it readily confirms the remarkable ability shown by her last collection, Alien Crop. Reading the Bones has a compelling resonance which marks Paisley as an exceptional poetic voice.
Janet Paisley's poetry is very much 'in the world'. With a wry, full awareness… she reads the bones of human relationships. Her concerns are the joys and threats of being a parent, a lover, a child. Far from sentimental, she reveals a fierce compassion for those caught in grief or danger, especially the young. She evokes well the half-understood silences of a child's world, and the daft obsessiveness of the lover. Her language is energetic and deceptively simple, and, unlike many, she writes with a wisdom which has surely been won from experience - Kathleen Jamie
In Reading the Bones, Paisley explores relationships, between person and place, between lovers, but particularly those between parents and children, all the way from infancy to death. All relationships, conventional and aberrant, are observed with a sensitive, yet unsentimental, eye. She has the gift of being able to enter, fully, into the moment evoked - and to take us with her. And love, frustrated or fulfilled, is at the centre of it all - Aonghas Macneacail
Reading the Bones - It is a remarkable complex literary journey… The Herald — Hayden Murphy
…by turns mocking, yearning, self-deprecatory and mordantly funny, making for an astringently lyrical effect… Scottish Book Collector — Mario Relich
<box 50% round poetry | Book Extract - Reading the Bones> Reading the Bones
This time it is not the child
but the man – racked and saddled
by hot sun. Over broken stone,
alone, he walks. Still upright
though burdened with the weight
that brings down worlds. Each step
is iron hard, small insects
dart in sharper shadows, cracks
open in the earth, and grief
is somewhere else – where water is.
The child he walks with is dead
yet he will not set it down.
Beyond the touch of hands, he
is merciless. Does not look back
to where he stopped last, wet
the child’s mouth – a smear of mist,
the almost kiss. Does not look
forward though he goes, a slow
sure stepping toward the grave.
Proud head, straight back, the painful
ribs, stripped sticks of arms, and legs
that walk and walk and walk
and are brought down more surely
by the bones I cannot read;
bones he carries on his back.
Is it son or daughter, love
or hope, or is he saddled to
the failure of his fatherhood
- the mouth he could not feed,
the need he could not fill, a life
he could not keep – so deep a grief
it cannot be set down. On
and on into the hungry heat,
sweating flies, and every step
an agony of bone and breath.
And I am trying, blindly
to read those bones – of Man,
walking his dead child home.