Sweet Anaesthetist — Jay Whittaker
Jay Whittaker’s debut collection, Wristwatch, won the 2018 Saltire prize for Poetry Book of the Year. In this eagerly awaited follow-up, Jay explores themes of origin, asking what shapes us most: our biological heritage or the societies we find ourselves born into?
Her work draws deeply from the landscapes of the Hebrides and East Lothian, from the natural world in general. Yet, often, it returns to the fleshly bodies we inhabit and through which we experience everything — as in her debut, in Sweet Anaesthetist Jay discusses the frailty of the body and the task of living with cancer — but she also turns outwards, to beings encountered and too easily overlooked in the rush of the day-to-day: friends, acquaintances, the smallest creatures with which we share our days. Culminating in the prose poetry sequence, ‘Egg Case’, Sweet Anaesthetist is a vibrant, transfixing plunge into the stuff of life itself.
Mingling disarming directness and imagistic restraint, Jay Whittaker’s poems expand outwards from deceptively diminutive proportions—little bombs-for-the-soul of love, grief, anger and empathy. What occurs in or inhabits the peripheries of day-to-day life—from used contact lenses and garden birds to overseas military interventions—is brought centre stage in writing which powerfully demonstrates the urgency of alertness to things often cast off as disposable, or passed by unheeded. ‘Have some respect. Look,’ the landscape demands in ‘Eyrie’. At once generous and unflinching in its vision, Sweet Anaesthetist tasks the reader to look more closely, and more flexibly, too—to lose, or at least loosen their grip on, ‘the phrasebook / for the language of home’.
Jay Whittaker grew up in Devon and Nottingham, and has lived and worked in Edinburgh for over 20 years. Her debut poetry collection, Wristwatch (Cinnamon Press), was the Scottish Poetry Book of the Year in the Saltire Society Literary Awards 2018. Recent publications include The Butcher’s Dog, The North, Gutter, The Interpreters’ House, Envoi, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal and Staying Human (Bloodaxe). Jay writes about resilience, grief, living with cancer, and LGBT+ lives (including her own). She enjoys performing and has been well-received by audiences at the StAnza International Poetry Festival and other poetry and spoken word events in Scotland and beyond. One of Edinburgh’s Other Writers, she enjoys making the most of the city’s literary and spoken word scene. Find out more about Jay’s writing and follow her blog.