James Byrne’s Withdrawals, in spite or perhaps because of its weighty subject matter, is laced with irony as stiff as arsenic, and includes an Oulipian N+7 poem of garbled cigarette-packet warnings (“Protect chimeras: don’t make them breathe your smother”).
– Camille Ralphs in the TLS
Each brilliantly crafted ‘take’ on ‘withdrawal’ here enacts the fug of addiction, the moodily out of focus, the slightly out of synch, the liminal out of control: whether backing away from childhood memories, from ‘the rutting yard of a local vigilante’ with his national flag, or even from the sea form that separates Britain in its withdrawal from Europe. Early engagements with tobacco are a metaphor for the mordant ghosts that have fanged us all. The various ‘yous’ of the texts are not subject-positions we want to fill, but we do, knowing we deserve all we get: ‘your last letter like someone divided at birth./ What kind of meat have you cooked into now?’ This ratty wisdom is far from serene. Withdrawals are – despite the cold hand of the title – sly encounters, with compensations of their own.
– Robert Sheppard
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