Slide by Mark Pajak for National Poetry Day

For National Poetry Day I wanted to focus on a debut collection released this year, which I have found incredibly impressive and emotionally moving.

A few of Mark Pajak’s poems have appeared online but his new collection Slide has just been released to great acclaim, with Carol Ann Duffy saying

Mark Pajak’s skilful poems keep themselves open, especially to childhood and adolescent experience. Even so, they are far from frail – their insight and imaginative verve make them robust as well as eloquent.

Mark Pajak was born in Merseyside in 1987. His work has received a Northern Writers’ Award, a Society of Authors’ Grant, an Eric Gregory Award and a UNESCO international writing residency. He is a past recipient of the Bridport Prize and has been three times included in the National Poetry Competition winners list.

Slide contains poems of dark beauty, featuring confined spaces and secret moments – a tool shed a tent and a chicken coop – places where small pivotal interactions play out in unexpected ways. The collection features first kisses, a dare between two lovers, a camping trip with a father, but each situation is just slightly off-centre, leaving an ambivalence, which is intoxicating.

There is a theme of violence and subversion throughout. In ‘Crystal’, a barman watches as a young girl’s drink is spiked by an older man, while in ‘Trick’, a sexual moment between two boys is heightened by the presence of a knife. Threat is always lurking, whether in the imagination, as it is in ‘A Pile of Leaves’ or in reality as when a woman’s body is found in ‘Into the Mudflats’.

There is a cinematic quality to Pajak’s work. In ‘Thin’, a dead dog is described as ‘a bin bag of cutlery’ while in ‘Delicacy’, the boiling of a lobster in a pot is compared to Pajak’s grandfather’s hands after a long shift at the Leyland car plant.

Swathes of human experience are distilled with skill into a handful of lines. In ‘Silver’, the entirety of a doomed relationship is evoked with two images – one of a dress being zipped up and the other of a car being keyed, while ‘A Set Place’ perfectly encapsulates the pain of a lost pregnancy. ‘The Still’, a trio of poem’s detailing the death of his grandmother are charged and beautifully observed and what strikes the reader throughout is the subtle juxtaposition of tenderness and pain.

The poems from Slide have stayed with me weeks after reading them and I want to share one of my favourites from this collection.


She chafes a flame from the lighter,
listens to its gush of butane.

This thirteen-year-old,
hunkered down behind the PE hut.

For a full minute she watches
the raw egg-white heat quiver

round its yolk. Then she unthumbs
and the flame slims out.

She tugs back her sleeve on a scar,
a small pink socket in her forearm.

She holds her breath and plugs in
the hot lighter. Her lips clench white,

eyes into walnuts, the metal cap
fizzing into skin and fat and this

is how she deletes herself. Her mind’s
blank page a kind of snow blindness.

Then, all her muscles go slack.
She opens her eyes for what feels

like the first time. Lets out the breath
taken in by someone else.


Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

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