Dilys Rose reviews Sweet Anaesthetist in ArtemisPoetry 26 (May 2021)
The overall impression from Jay Whittaker’s Sweet Anaesthetist is a fierce cry from the heart alleviated by witty ruefulness, self-knowledge and rejoicing in the friendship and support gained in adulthood, though this seems to have been a serious absence in her childhood. The urge to be independent, to get away, is starkly expressed in the earlier poems here: “At the window I flung it free … My invitation to fly,” Icarus in suburbia; “That’s the thing about possibility. / You have to know it’s there,” Sighting; “I want to change my element.” Early morning call. A theme of fighting both against heredity and nurture holds the book together, the cancer she writes about so viscerally in the later poems being of a hereditary type but also linked with a drug wrongly prescribed for her pregnant mother – a societal failure, among others that Whittaker pinpoints. Another main theme is womanhood. This lesbian poet expresses assertion of her sexuality, pride in women’s achievements (Amelia’s bones is about the flyer Amelia Earhart), and recoil from male hegemony (“Peering at plaques on plinths, / we don’t recognise these guardians / of a former order … Now we’ve made it / into the cadaverous ribcage of the establishment.” Mausoleum. There is however a pivotal ambiguity about women’s bodies that first appears in the searing menstruation poem Jam rags (a term for sanitary towels). Of course many of the powerful later poems here are about a body gone wrong, forcing itself on the poet’s fascinated attention: “My snail shells, my coiled snake. Mysterious, seen on scans, analysed by faceless medics” Egg case, a prose poem. Whittaker is an observant, socially aware observer and a highly talented writer whose imagery can be striking and at times lapidary; one of the key points of interest here, however, is the poet’s lack of ease with her own psyche and also those poems, such as the excellent The Malleny yews, where, outspokenness alternating with a more lyrical mode, she seems to find the ‘eye of the storm.’
Chiara Bullen reviews Wristwatch in Commonspace.
“Poetry at its most powerful, Wristwatch is a raw and devastating collection exploring themes of loss, illness and failure of the state. Whittaker’s words strike deep and true, tackling some of life’s most trying hardships and wrapping them with words of love and more than a hint of hope. Accessible, brave, full of wit and wonder – this is one of the best poetry collections in recent years. If you’re looking for a little more poetry in your life, don’t hesitate to pick this up.”
Saltire Literary Awards 2018: Judging Panel on Wristwatch.
“The unexpected vicissitudes of human life are grafted into the natural world – animate and inanimate – in a series of succinct poems, creating a deeply personal and moving collection. The poems are alert and humane, even humorous when least expected. For a first collection this is very assured, mature and coherent piece of work.”