Today is my second post on the blog tour for this year’s Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize longlistl. I’m looking at the debut collection by Northern Irish poet Stephen Sexton, which won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.
If All the World and Love were Young begins with a note in which Sexton describes a photo that his mother took of his nine-year-old self playing Super Mario World: the garden to his left, the television with the game to his right – the boy himself poised between reality and gameworld.
Sexton’s collection is a poetic tour of the levels of Super Mario World, infused with reflections on grief at the loss of his mother. The iconography of the game twists into memory:
[…]the questions floating in the air
are for a future self to voice decades from now who will return
again and again to this room and these moments of watershed.Yoshi’s Island 1
The poet writes about his mother’s illness, her time in hospital, and remembering her. All the way through, the fantasy world of the game is something of an escape, but ultimately it’s so bound up with reality in the poems that it becomes a way to process what’s happening in life.
Towards the end of the book, Sexton catches imagined glimpses of his mother:
Every other day I think I see her passing by the window
or crossing a bridge or walking ahead of me in the village
but this is the wrong universe among all the universes.Way Cool
Moments like these are when the collection is at its most poignant: when the cold light of reality cuts through.