(Cape Poetry, 2022); pbk: £12.00
Mark Pajak’s debut collection, Slide, is a brutal, captivating account of how survival and death manifest in contemporary life. The hidden pains, fear and connections held so tenuously in the everyday are laid bare, spoken into plain view with striking language that cuts to the heart of the blurred lines between people and the natural world. This collection combines a variety of minimalistic forms and styles, bringing tales of loss, urbanisation, and adolescence in a series of 38 poems split across five sections. Speaking through personal and observed stories, Pajak digs into the depth of everyday horror in ‘The Scream’:
these rising bubbles melt together. On the surface,
flat water blisters into four floating globes.
Before, one by one, the scream delicately stops.
The work’s emotional impact cannot be overstated, always provocative even at the gentlest times. Pajak’s discussion of self-harm, personal loss, and death remains thoughtful and deliberate throughout the collection; he balances intense observation and accuracy with respect for the difference between theory and experience. There is a notable difference in his writing style when speaking in the first person about his experiences and the things he wrote from the imagination. This understanding makes the visceral pain in the poems authentic and powerful, and there were times when I found it difficult to continue reading. Through ‘Mountain Path’ we see how the visual aspect of his work is used to evoke the role of the helpless voyeur, as bound to the flow of the poetry as its subjects.
Not clear enough
path. This suddenly
lost - shin-deep
in itchy capillary
branches of heather
- path. This cannot
be followed, only
learned, path. This
path that we all
Pajak’s blunt, concise style is beautifully matched to his subject matter. Simple language and complex psychological states, singing to one another with empathy and conviction. The variety of poetic forms on display keeps the collection diverse and fresh, keeping each poem audially and visually distinct. The succinct length also allows the reader to consider each poem on its own terms. The combined effect is a collection that haunts and reverberates through the mind; pieces such as ‘Thin’ are poems that stays with you, long after your eyes have left the page.
in a shed
the door in,
The staying power of Pajak’s poetry complements his work’s gorgeous, vibrant imagery. Poems such as ‘The Lemon Game’ make great use of a simple premise being given a nuanced emotional tone that elevates the subject matter.
And the boy must palm it up in a bite; wax-skin bursting, wetting him chin to small chest, his mouth mulling the stinging taste, its soggy chomp[.]
The rural settings and harsh landscapes are given precise detail, complementing the themes and atmosphere of the work flawlessly, especially since physicality is such a vital component of the collection. The small details, such as the dust on the leaves of a peace lily and the colour of the grass’s roots, bring the landscape to life. The comparison between the ascension of floating lanterns and jellyfish in ‘Wreck’ portrays not only a scenic vista, but an infinity, an rise from which those creatures must someday fall.
forests of kelp, and down here, past jellyfish white as Chinese lanterns and the bottomless plummet of coastal shelf[.]
Slide is a collection brimming with vitality and energy, entangled with powerful discussions of death and loss. Vivid and Haunting, his work captivates the imagination and proves to be an innovative and engaging work which bears patient and attentive reading.